Facial Recognition Technology and our right to privacy
Inside the NYPD's surveillance machine
Superposition - a Dutch innovative design studio for interactive experiences - was asked by and collaborated closely with Amnesty International to create an interactive digital experience. To raise awareness about the use of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) by the NYPD and the possible violation of people's right to privacy because of the use of this technology.
Superposition created an impactful data visualisation which shows the extent to which people in New York City are exposed to facial recognition by the NYPD.
For example, tourists who walk from the Empire State Building to MoMA risk surveillance via facial recognition for 80% of their route. Also, in areas where communities are subjected to stop-and-frisk, people are more likely to be under surveillance via facial recognition. And FRT was used to track and identify people who participated in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the Summer of 2020. A protester risked surveillance via FRT for 100% of their route.
How it works
The project allows people to interact with Amnesty’s research data. Making the data tangible and the consequences of the deployment of FRT in the public domain visible. It also offers them ways to take action.
Visitors can map out a walking route through NYC and see where along the route they may be exposed to facial recognition surveillance. There are also scenarios showing the correlation between exposure to FRT surveillance, BLM protests and stop-and-frisk sites as mentioned above.
Then they are encouraged to email their local council if they are residents of NYC or sign a global petition to call for a ban on FRT for mass surveillance purposes.
Behind the scenes
Throughout the entire concept phase Superposition and Amnesty International worked closely together. From doing analysis on the research data to developing the narrative and the preliminary UX.
During weekly sprint meetings, a lo-fi (low-fidelity) interactive prototype was tested and evaluated. The first and most important role of lo-fi prototypes is to check and test functionality rather than the visual appearance of the product. This method allowed for quick iterations while keeping the client involved in all (design) decisions, at all times.
Besides the usual testing by colleagues, friends and relatives, Superposition had the prototypes tested by Amnesty’s Citizen Evidence Lab* and the students at Amnesty’s Cambridge DVC (digital verification corps)**. A diverse group of people who are eager to share their thoughts and experiences. Their responses were positive yet critical, offering quite a few learnings that could be applied in the next iteration.
*Amnesty International's Evidence Lab brings together investigators, engineers, developers and others to pilot new and expanding tools such as artificial intelligence, remote sensing, weapons identification and big-data analytics.
**Amnesty International's Volunteers for the Age of Social Media. The network consists of six universities – the University of Hong Kong, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Toronto, the University of Cambridge, the University of Essex and the University of Pretoria.
Superstition built the online experience as a mobile-first, reactive web app, in order to reach as broad an audience as possible - from a researcher using a desktop to a hiker using his/her mobile phone.
By using custom vector based map tiles and WebGL-based rendering technology, they kept the bundle size low to offer optimal performance. The bigger the bundle size, the longer it will take before a user can view an app.
For geolocation and routing, the studio used a GDPR-compliant service to protect the visitor’s privacy.
One of the biggest challenges of the concept and UI design was getting the balance right between exploring novel ways of communicating the research findings and, ultimately, driving people to take action. We achieved this balance.