FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 3, 2021
NEW ORLEANS – Yesterday, the Mayor and Chief Ferguson’s statements regarding the repealing or amending of the surveillance ordinance are unfortunately not the first attempt at reversing the hard-won civil liberties protections passed in December 2020. In a year-long investigative story published by The Lens, former Councilmember Banks Jay Banks mentioned considering a reversal of the city’s ban on facial recognition, despite the already extensive reach of New Orleans’ current surveillance apparatus, its rapid expansion, and its lack of transparency or regulation. In December 2020, New Orleans City Council banned the use of facial recognition and three other surveillance technologies, in large part because they have been proven rife with racial bias and have resulted in the wrongful arrest and imprisonment of people of color across the country. They also continue to distract from addressing the root causes of crime; these tools don’t prevent crime, yet we continue to pour money into them instead of affordable housing, job training, nutritious food options, and better schools. The City also lied about its use of the technologies for months, finally admitted to using them, and are now claiming that the ordinance removed an important tool from their arsenal. Something is not adding up.
A little more than a year ago, we were celebrating the New Orleans City Council’s passage of an ordinance that bans NOPD from using facial recognition technology. However, The Lens’ recent report along with continued statements from city officials looking to alter the ordinance is a stark reminder that the movement against mass surveillance in New Orleans and across the South has only just begun.
The ban on the technology is the direct result of people organizing, showing up, and harnessing their collective power to write their own future and reject a reality where face recognition surveillance is used to accelerate violence and oppression. Our community came together to say ‘No’ to racist surveillance and the city must remain accountable to the people’s needs. New Orleanians are saying loud and clear that they do not want dangerous and discriminatory face and biometric surveillance.
“These systems have a disturbing record of racial bias and inaccuracy that endangers people of color and other marginalized groups. Many studies have proven that facial recognition technology is dangerous, costly, and doesn’t make us safer. But our elected officials have a chance to set a powerful new precedent on surveillance technology for the South. We are calling on our councilmembers to uphold their commitment to racial equity and civil liberties for all, and instead begin investing in resources that are proven to address the root causes of crime. At minimum, the technology ordinance passed in 2020 must remain in place — we cannot afford to go backward.”
Additionally, surveillance technologies are shown to have a disparate racial impact, with Black people more likely to be misidentified as suspects and disproportionately placed under surveillance. A 2019 study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found that face recognition algorithms do not perform as well when examining the faces of women, people of color, the elderly, and children. Lastly, video surveillance has not been proven effective. Criminologists studying camera deployments say there is no evidence they prevent or reduce crime.
In addition to banning four invasive surveillance technologies, the ordinance passed in 2020 also limits the collection and sharing of people’s immigration status and the city’s ability to buy or sell data obtained with public or private surveillance technology.