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The Fight Against Facial Recognition in New Orleans

Photo by Caroline Sinders for Vice
Photo by Caroline Sinders for Vice

(By Caroline Sinders for Vice) Last December, the city of New Orleans voted to ban facial recognition, joining Oakland, Somerville, Portland, San Francisco, and other cities that have successfully pushed back against the widely-criticized surveillance technology. Across the US, various nonprofits and politicians have opposed police use of facial recognition, predictive policing, and other technologies which are known to disproportionately target communities of color.

But in New Orleans, which boasts one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country, the opposition was led by Eye on Surveillance, a coalition of community organizers and activists—including Black youth, musicians, and sex workers.

Surveillance technology has never been a hard sell for elected officials in Louisiana. The state is sometimes called the world’s prison capital, and has had the highest murder rate in the US for over 30 years. As Ursula Price, executive director of the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice, mentions in the City Surveillance podcast, the state’s past history of policing is commonly used to justify expanding surveillance technology.

In 2012, New Orleans secretly partnered with the surveillance firm Palantir to use predictive policing and facial recognition technology. The city repeatedly denied using the technologies, and hid their existence from residents and most public servants until six years later, when The Verge uncovered details of the partnership. After a deadly mass shooting on the city’s famous Bourbon Street in 2016, the city developed a $40 million public safety plan that equipped police with military gear and led to the creation of the Real Time Crime Center (RTCC), a facility that monitors real-time footage from hundreds of surveillance cameras across the city.

“These private companies are like, ‘oh yeah, you guys have a high crime rate? Yeah, let me test out this technology.’ And that actually just collects a bunch of personal data and implicates people in crimes they’ve never actually committed,” Lucy Blumberg, a member of the Eye on Surveillance coalition and an organizer with the New Orleans Chapter of Jewish Voices Peace, told Motherboard.

In 2017, the city had proposed its now failed Alcoholic Beverage Outlet (ABO) surveillance ordinance, which would have required any place serving alcohol to have surveillance cameras. The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) also executed a series of “anti-trafficking” raids in clubs, and dancers and other entertainers began to protest against the raids and the ABO ordinance.

“There was the notion in our community in 2018, that having cameras in the bars would be just another way to target sex workers and other people,” Allie Beth, a researcher and community organizer with the stripper-led labor rights group BARE NOLA, told Motherboard. Read the rest here.

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