MTA scare tactics spark privacy concerns

There's no need to be concerned with facial recognition technology being used in the subways, according to the MTA.
There's no need to be concerned with facial recognition technology being used in the subways, according to the MTA.
Shutterstock
There's no need to be concerned with facial recognition technology being used in the subways, according to the MTA.

MTA scare tactics spark privacy concerns

Questions about facial recognition technology are continuing to crop up.
April 23, 2019

Facial recognition technology seems to be showing up in more places every day – on bridges, in apartment buildings, and in Madison Square Garden. To some, facial recognition represents a new frontier for policing and security. For others, it’s an invasion of privacy signaling Big Brother. But according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the technology is not at work in New York City’s subways.

On Friday, a New York Times analyst posted a photo of a monitor on a subway platform that appeared to be taking video of riders exiting the subway, with yellow squares around their heads and the words “recording in progress” on the screen. The post quickly sparked fears that the MTA was recording faces on subway platforms for facial recognition. The organization promptly denied that conclusion, saying that the cameras are a trick to deter fare evasion and that they have no capabilities or plans to recognize or identify individuals by face. “These cameras are purely for the purpose of deterring fare evasion – if you see yourself on a monitor, you’re less likely to evade the fare,” MTA spokesman Maxwell Young wrote in an email. “The cameras can detect motion, and can recognize when there is a human on screen, as can many security cameras, but again, there is no capability to recognize or identify individuals and absolutely no plan to.”

While the MTA may not be using facial recognition in the subway, the technology is being used on some city bridges, although it was revealed earlier this month that tests of the technology on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge have failed. The technology has also been a point of contention between tenants and a landlord who wants to install facial recognition technology at a rent-stabilized building in Brooklyn.

Even though the MTA might have avoided a groundswell of negative pushback by denying using the technology in the subway, questions about facial recognition will keep popping up. At some point, New Yorkers will have to come to terms with which kinds of surveillance are acceptable – and which kinds are not.

For the rest of today's tech news, head over to First Read Tech.

Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.
20190522