Can We Just Say No to Facial Recognition Software… or Has That Train Left the Station?

April 15, 2021 Leave a comment

Common Dreams staffer Jake Johnson posted an article yesterday titled “Too Dangerous To Exist” which describes the recommendation of a coalition of privacy rights advocates who want to stop the development of facial recognition software on the grounds that it is far too invasive of privacy and, in the wrong hands, could lead to horrific consequences. Lest anyone believe that the collection and use of biometric data could have chilling consequences, one only needs to look at how that data is being collected and used now in the private sector. Mr.
Johnson cites a letter written by 20 privacy rights organizations:

“In a world where private companies are already collecting our data, analyzing it, and using it to manipulate us to make a profit, we can’t afford to naively believe that private entities can be trusted with our biometric information,” the letter reads. “We call on all local, state, and federal elected officials, as well as corporate leaders, to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance by private entities.”

The groups cite several examples of corporations using facial recognition in ways that threaten workers’ rights, including Amazon’s requirement that delivery drivers consent to allowing the company’s artificial intelligence-equipped cameras to collect their biometric data and surveil their activity on the job. The coalition also points to Apple’s facial recognition scans of its factory employees.

“These cases clearly show how private use of facial recognition by corporations, institutions, and even individuals poses just as much of a threat to marginalized communities as government use,” the letter reads. “Corporations are already using facial recognition on workers in hiring, to replace traditional timecards, and to monitorworkers’ movements and ‘productivity’—all of which particularly harm frontline workers and make them susceptible to harassment, exploitation, and put their personal information at risk.”

I am writing this post on my MacBook Air which now opens when I press my index finger though if I were more competent at typing with my thumbs I could have used my iPhone which opens when I look at it and can be found by asking my robotic friend Siri to help me find it. These examples of biometrics are all “time saving” in the cyberworld time frames we are now accustomed to. I mean who wants to log onto a laptop or iPhone using keystrokes when a touch of the finger or glance will accomplish the same thing.

The letter, which can be found in the post, references misuse and abuse of biometric data in the corporate, medical, and law enforcement fields but makes no mention of the data collected involuntarily by schools…. data that has the same far reaching impact on the well-being of students as it has on the well-being of adults and employees. And what makes it even worse is that, as noted in an earlier post, the schools who serve children raised in poverty and children of color are far more likely to have cameras collecting this data than schools serving affluent children.

Here’s hoping that the genie is not already out of the bottle on this issue!

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Surveillance for Shooters Used to Monitor Students. Is That What Parents Want? Is That What the Public Wants? What Kind of Future Does This Prepare Students For?

April 14, 2021 Leave a comment

Former journalist Nick Morrison’s recent article describes how schools are using surveillance cameras designed to ID school shooters to monitor student behavior throughout the school day. And, unsurprisingly, researchers at Johns Hopkins in MD and Washington College in MO are finding that “high surveillance” schools with intense camera coverage have higher suspension rates that typical public schools: 

Students at high-surveillance schools are more likely to be on the receiving end of an in-school suspension – where a student is put in isolation within the school, separated from their classmates.

This link holds even when researchers controlled for levels of school disorder and student misbehavior.

“High-surveillance schools create the capacity for high-suspension schools to exist,” said Odis Johnson, professor at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the study.

“Greater detection leads to greater punishment, regardless of the students who attend these schools.”

But the effects don’t end there. Students at high-surveillance schools end up with significantly lower levels of math achievement and are also less likely to go on to college. At least some of this relationship a result of in-school suspensions.

And these findings underscore the unintended consequences of “hardening” campuses by introducing things like metal detectors, cameras, and– yes– SROs. And what is even worse is that the schools with the highest levels of security are the schools that serve poor children and children of color. And the students who receive discipline at these highly surveilled schools? 

They are also four times more likely to be Black, and disproportionately likely to be poor, from a single parent home and to have repeated a grade, the researchers found, after analyzing data on approximately 6,000 students across the U.S.

Along with co-author Jason Jabbari, data analyst at Washington University in St Louis, Johnson describes the disadvantages suffered by students in schools with greater surveillance as a “social control setback”.

The higher level of suspensions and its effect on math scores is almost enough on its own to account for the differences in college attendance.

Once suspensions and lower math scores are accounted for, Black females are more likely to attend college and Black males are no longer significantly less likely to attend college than other students.

So the vicious cycle, the school-to-prison pipeline, results from the presumably well-intentioned action of school boards to “protect” schools from shooters, redirecting money that COULD be used for instructional technology to buy surveillance technology and money that COULD be used for counselors to hire SROs. 

All of this leads to the questions posed in the headline of this post: 

Is this what parents want?

Is this what the public wants?

What kind of future does this prepare students for? 

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Krugman’s Bottom Line: To Create Jobs in America, Create Jobs in America… Don’t Wait for Businesses to Do It Because You Gave Them a Tax Break

April 11, 2021 Leave a comment

Earlier this week NYTimes op ed writer and Nobel economist Paul Krugman offered a positive assessment of Joe Biden’s approach to job creation and yet another disparaging assessment of trickle down economics. Dr. Krugman’s  bottom line on job creation is summarized in his last two penultimate paragraphs:

The corporate tax plan, then, looks like a really good idea. In part that’s because President Biden, unlike his predecessor, has hired people who know what they’re talking about. And it also marks a welcome break with the ideology that says that the only way we can help American workers is indirect action: cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy in the hope that they’ll somehow deliver a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

What the Biden team seems to have concluded, instead, is that the way to create jobs is to create jobs, mainly through public investment, rather than by chasing unicorns and leprechauns.To the (partial) extent that direct job creation must be paid for with new taxes, the new taxes should be imposed on those who can afford to pay.

This seems to be a very simple equation: create government jobs and pay for them with taxes raised on those who can afford it most. Why, you might ask, has this not been done of late? Because everyone who ran for President from Michael Dukakis onward based their platform on the same assertion… the Reagan credo: GOVERNMENT is the Problem. And what has four decades of giving corporations tax breaks given us? A yawning gap between the rich and poor, a class of individuals (like the former President) who inherited great wealth and used it to secure endless power, and a set of awesome jobs like those described in the Lego Movie.