ReThinkLinkNYC testifies at City Hall's 'Ban Biometric Surveillance'

Posted 11 Oct 2019

From retailers to landlords, cops to kiosks

Alongside several other community groups, testified Monday, October 12 2019 at City Council’s hearing on banning facial recognition. Here’s what we said!

This was our testimony:

Good afternoon council.

My name is Schuyler Duveen, representing a community group called I’ve worked in the technology industry for 25 years seeing many different faces of privacy violations and the evolution into our current beyond-Orwellian state. First as a hacker in my sophomoric high-school days, then dealing in educational and security aspects at schools, I was also Director of Technology at WNYC radio for four years.

I first want to celebrate two aspects of this bill that you should preserve with future legislation: First, you avoided the narrow framing of “facial recognition” and discuss biometric recognition in general. This is important since the industry often retreats to narrowly excluding ‘facial recognition’ while this is among many forms of recognition, and not even the most reliable, among others are ‘gait recognition’ ‘voice recognition’ ‘smell recognition’ and a recent patent filed outlines ‘butt recognition’

Second, you avoid the framing of markers that immediately are connected to individuals and you define the technology around what is capable of identifying a person. Many times, the local company/’collector’ will not know the person, but can collect markers and then pass it to other companies which do matching without any transparency that it’s happening at all. The local organization can confidently say “We don’t identify individuals” all the while passing biometric data to 3rd parties and targeting them or profiling them in other ways.

I’m here to request that you pass this legislation and pass further legislation that is more aggressive in the following ways:

One, that you expand identifying technology to consumer-products and objects (like key fobs) that have not been established with local permission on premises.

Our personal phones are tracked with WiFi and BlueTooth technology in all sorts of public spaces.

RFIDs are embedded in retail items to track during shipping – from clothing to children’s toys. However, they mostly stay on beyond purchase and can often track your person while navigating public spaces carrying these items.

Secondly, that you expand the law to new york city ‘furniture’ – i.e. Link.NYC kiosks.

One organization that has committed both sins above is Sidewalk labs in partnership with DoITT. Their current “privacy policy” (if you could call it such a thing) excludes “facial recognition” but doesn’t say they are avoiding any other biometric markers as we walk down the street. As an example, while the privacy policy says much about how they collect video (they shouldn’t be recording video at all) – they include ‘audio’ as “ambient noise” in a category which they can share indiscriminantly with any third parties and store indefinitely.

New Yorkers should be secure in our public space and we, the people, should set the terms for our identity being tracked rather than let the companies write their own loop-holes.


One last thing I wanted to discuss is a question that the council has asked other folks testifying today.
Besides possible the harms brought up thus far,

Credit Scores, Loan Approvals (and advertisements for opportunities) have been based on who your facebook friends are – these can be statistical and if collection occurs, the statistical nature allows companies to lie about how connected these factors are – maybe it’s where I walked down the street – or who I walked down the street with, or who visited me in my apartment. We shouldn’t wait until it becomes public that this was done.

For more coverage, see the Gothamist opinion peice: Surveillance and the City: Facing Up to Facial Recognition