Automatic facial recognition (AFR) is hitting the headlines in the UK because of questions about its use in society. AFR is part of a wider drive worldwide, for surveillance and its associated big data to assist policing and to support security. It is a form of border-making. It is invisible, and its impacts are unknown. Yes, it may assist in catching suspected criminals, but what are the insidious affects on the wider public and their sense of autonomy and freedom to act.
Specifically I’m interested in how the use of AFR in public areas where protests happen, affect the viability of those protests. How the threat of being recorded, your intimate facial biometric details captured, would affect your choice to be part of a protest. Yes, the integral part of being at a protest is to be counted – one of many with a message to be heard. But, there is a difference between being present through choice, and being ‘captured’ by AFR – in this ‘capture’ without consent, there is a power imbalance. A power imbalance which is heightened by a current lack of transparency. My argument is that the use of AFR in public areas creates an implicit power imbalance that is threatening – and to be threatened, is to be coerced – your behaviour altered through fear.
Through this commission with the University of Exeter I will work with academic researchers and people who have protested to produce co-produced portraits that through their process and outcome explore questions around the use of AFR.