surveillance (copy)

Opinion columnist Keisha Lopes argues that the American government is abusing surveillance technology, failing to mention that the accuracy is never guaranteed, thus violating the American principle of privacy.

“We have nothing to hide,” is a common response from American citizens when questioned over their surveillance by the government. Yet those same people insist on a secure passcode to their phone and check to make sure the front door is locked at night.

In the newest podcast episode of "The Daily," by the New York Times, the host interviewed two reporters who seemingly uncovered deceptive objectives of a new tech app called Clearview AI. The new technology shies away from the traditional tactics of surveillance, as information is gathered solely from the public web. Much like other methods of surveillance, Clearview’s intentions are to assist law enforcement in tracking criminals quicker and more efficiently. 

Thus far, the app is only available to law enforcement and is actively being used in over 60 police departments across the country, with expectations of expansion. But a significant piece of the puzzle is still at large: the taxpayers.

The app is not only a costly investment, it disregards the American value of privacy. Compiling information from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Venmo, Clearview has the ability to track an individual’s address, employment, friends, and even habits — all without their knowledge or consent.

Clearview AI has a database of over 3 billion photos, ensuring a 100% match to any American that goes through the system. With a significant biometric data system, almost no one is safe from the app.

Quite frankly, Clearview is not a groundbreaking new system; it is simply the first to catch the eye of mainstream media. 

So, you may be asking, “What is the problem here?” More criminals are being caught and communities are becoming safer — that is, if you are white and live in a well-off suburb. If you're a person of color and living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood, warning signs are going off left and right.

Of the sixty police departments utilizing Clearview’s technology, none have disclosed their usage to the public — and for good reason. According to the ACLU, facial recognition technology misidentifies people of color more frequently than their white counterparts.

Again, no surprise. In fact, the app, along with similar technologies, is primarily being used in poorer neighborhoods. The rate of black people facing criminal charges has significantly increased, since covert surveillance has entered their communities.

With the continuing rapid growth of private prisons, the demand for tenants has only followed the trend. The criminal justice system has transformed into a business model of supply and demand, making apps like Clearview AI a catalyst for profit.

Biometric surveillance methods are being veiled under the hoax of protecting the community and removing more criminals from the streets. These companies, however, fail to mention that they are targeting a specific demographic. They fail to mention that accuracy is never guaranteed. They fail to mention that these systems violate the basic American principle of privacy. 

The threat of Clearview AI is more than the average person would realize. Law enforcement, the organization designed to protect all citizens, continues to contract private surveillance companies without disclosing information to taxpayers.

That’s right; citizens are paying for top-of-the-line privacy invasion and discrimination. 

Whether you are white or black, rich or poor, this should trigger strong emotions. This should be enraging. In simple terms, the government is demanding citizens foot the bill for violations against their right to privacy.

Because these programs are undisclosed to the public, Americans do not have a way to provide oversight on a program such as Clearview AI.

This begs a simple question about private surveillance: how far is too far?

Keisha Lopes is a senior from Denver, Colorado studying political science and international studies.

Edited by Madeleine Rheinheimer