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eyes on the U.S.

Surveillance Tech Eyes COVID-19 And Black Lives Matter

Biased Big Brother
Biased Big Brother
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

PARIS — It's been a tumultuous few months for so-called "surveillance tech."

Most recently, following pushback from Black Lives Matter activists, Amazon has suspended police use of its facial recognition software for one year. IBM followed suit, announcing it will stop offering its similar software for "mass surveillance or racial profiling." The moves from the tech giants is a step, small as it may be, in the right direction. Yet this also comes amid calls during the pandemic to turn to such technology to ensure public cooperation to stem the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

Despite the potential medical benefits, the use of geolocation technology to curb the coronavirus has raised concerns over fundamental data protection, especially in countries like China, South Korea and Israel where tracking has been more intrusive: enlisting credit card records for purchase patterns, GPS data for travel patterns, and security-camera footage for verification.

In Russia, the pandemic proved a convenient excuse to test a nascent, China-inspired citizen monitoring system, backed by a Moscow court ruling in early March stating that the city's facial recognition system does not violate the privacy of its citizens. Even places not particularly known for their police state-like tactics are pushing limits: In Paris, cameras were installed at the popular Châtelet metro station to monitor mask use, as it is illegal to take public transportation without a mask.

Photo: Lianhao Qu

Similar (and seemingly well-intentioned) efforts like fast-tracked coronavirus data collection apps have raised suspicions of data protection breaches by both hackers and governments, including in the Netherlands and South Africa. In Germany, a country known for its hard stance on privacy protection, new surveillance tools are being met with a considerable amount of defiance. An article in Die Welt asks: "How can you defend yourself against facial recognition?", questioning not only the reliability of the recognition gear and software, but also its growing availability to private companies.

The increased attention during pandemic times has now multiplied during the social unrest that followed the police killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd in Minneapolis. If companies and governments rushed to implement face-scanning systems to track the movements of COVID-19 patients, what prevents them from exploiting the same tech to gather data from Black Lives Matter protesters?

Recognition software is significantly more likely to misidentify darker-skinned people than lighter-skinned.

Big Brother, it turns out, has racist tendencies. But in a fight-fire-with-fire sort of way, technology itself may actually help us steer away from the slippery slope of profiling. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Joy Buolamwini, a researcher nicknamed the "poet of code," created the Algorithmic Justice League, aimed at producing more inclusive and ethical technology. Through her research, Buolamwini found that recognition software is significantly more likely to misidentify darker-skinned people than lighter-skinned — conclusions that could drive calls to review the technological bias.

Meanwhile, U.S.-based Data 4 Black Lives, a movement to counter historically racist uses of big data, posits that "Tools like statistical modeling, data visualization, and crowd-sourcing, in the right hands, are powerful instruments for fighting bias, building progressive movements, and promoting civic engagement." Whether it's about the selective collection of data or what happens with the data gathered, surveillance tech companies should know that they're being watched too.

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Murdoch Resignation Adds To Biden's Good Luck With The Media — A Repeat Of FDR?

Robert Murdoch's resignation from Fox News Corp. so soon before the next U.S. presidential elections begs the question of how directly media coverage has impacted Joe Biden as a figure, and what this new shift in power will mean for the current President.

Close up photograph of a opy of The Independent features Rupert Murdoch striking a pensive countenance as his 'News of the World' tabloid newspaper announced its last edition will run

July 7, 2011 - London, England: A copy of The Independent features Rupert Murdoch striking a pensive countenance as his 'News of the World' tabloid newspaper announced its last edition will run July 11, 2011 amid a torrid scandal involving phone hacking.

Mark Makela/ZUMA
Michael J. Socolow

Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States of America on Jan. 20, 2021.

Imagine if someone could go back in time and inform him and his communications team that a few pivotal changes in the media would occur during his first three years in office.

There’s the latest news that Rubert Murdoch, 92, stepped down as the chairperson of Fox Corp. and News Corp. on Sept. 21, 2023. Since the 1980s, Murdoch, who will be replaced by his son Lachlan, has been the most powerful right-wing media executivein the U.S.

While it’s not clear whether Fox will be any tamer under Lachlan, Murdoch’s departure is likely good news for Biden, who reportedly despises the media baron.

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