John Oliver discussed the downsides of nascent, yet rapidly evolving, facial recognition technology on the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, looking specifically at its relationship to law enforcement. Beneath is Oliver’s latest episode, with the host giving a range of dystopian possibilities for how facial recognition could be used to monitor the masses, as well as what steps could be taken to limit nefarious use of the already ubiquitous tech.
Oliver, who’s recently covered police brutality, turned his focus to facial recognition technology just as the tech gains a global foothold. While Oliver talks about all kinds of frightening aspects of the tech’s downsides, his discussion of how it pertains to the ongoing worldwide protests is perhaps most relevant.
“We… need a comprehensive, nationwide policy [regarding the use of facial recognition tech] and we need it right now,” Oliver says in the episode. He adds that “there are worries that it is being used in the protests that we are seeing now.” Oliver highlights the especially alarming ability for law enforcement to use facial recognition to link protestors to their social media profiles, and subsequently make arrests.
It should not have taken protests against police brutality and for Black lives, and the deployment of military-grade surveillance equipment on those protests, for these companies to wake up to the everyday realities of police surveillance for Black and Brown communities.— ACLU (@ACLU) June 11, 2020
On top of questionable uses by law enforcement, Oliver also notes how private corporations are using the tech. And while the corporations are, of course, themselves supplying facial recognition tech to law enforcement agencies, it’s equally worrying to Oliver that those corporations may be developing technology that is inherently biased. An issue that has been borne out in at least one, very recent incident.
Amazon says it will pause police use of its facial recognition technology for a year. Protests in the U.S. have focused attention on how police use technology to track people. https://t.co/3Oi8Sxku3K— The Associated Press (@AP) June 10, 2020
Oliver does end on a somewhat positive note, pointing to the fact that people can still vote to enact laws that limit the use of facial recognition tech by law enforcement. However, even the silver linings of the tech seem to be scant at this point, according to Oliver, and will require significant community involvement to be maintained. There’s certainly no doubt in Oliver’s mind that we all need to face what’s happening.
What do you think about this Last Week Tonight episode on facial recognition technology? Do you agree with Oliver’s criticisms of the tech, or do you think he’s skipped over some undiscussed benefits? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Header Image: HBO