Facial Recognition Technology: Notes of Caution for Privacy, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

This month's Government Analytics Breakfast Forum featured Alvaro Bedoya, Clare Garvie and Jonathan Frankle of Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy & Technology for a discussion about the privacy concerns raised by law enforcement's increasing reliance on facial recognition technology.

Facial recognition technology can be used to both verify a person's identify and identify an unknown individual.  It has both positive and negative applications.  For example, many would argue that being able to pay for something with facial recognition would be highly convenient (Google is experimenting with this).  On the other hand, a store owner using facial recognition to target potential shoplifters raises serious concerns about the invasion of privacy and racial profiling.

Racial profiling is, indeed, one of the biggest concerns with increased use of facial recognition technology.  The few studies that have been done demonstrate that existing technologies are significantly less accurate when identifying individuals who are not old, white and/or male.  There are many disturbing implications of inaccurate facial recognition, including the labeling of innocent people as crime suspects.

There are currently very few limits on how law enforcement agencies can use facial recognition.  Going forward, policymakers at both the state and federal should devote attention to developing a legal framework that governs the use of this powerful technology. 

A recording of the event can be viewed here.



Congratulations to Alum Kristen Soltis Anderson ('2009)


Congratulations to Kristen Soltis Anderson who was named by Elle magazine as one of "The Ten Most Compelling Women in DC." The article profile of Kristen includes how working on her thesis for the MA in Government Program provided her with the opportunity to develop further her ground breaking research on the voting preferences of the millenial generation.  



Jenna Brayton Discusses President Obama's Digital Communication Strategies

Jenna Brayton
, who served as Associate Director of Content for the Obama White House Office of Digital Strategy, addressed a capacity crowd of students at last night’s Symposia.   Her topic was “The First Digital White House:  A YouTube Presidency, Hashtag Activism, and the Significance of the Shift to the Internet.” 

Ms. Brayton shared with the audience the sweeping and swift changes that have taken place in digital communications between the end of the George W. Bush Administration and the onset of Obama’s.  The Bush Administration communicated mainly through “binders” of papers.  For example, Secretary of State under President Bush, Condoleeza Rice said in 2000 that she seldom used her email address.   Fast forward eight years to the Obama Administration, which was the first administration to have a Digital Strategy office (alongside a Communications Office).   Much of this was driven by vast changes in technology that took place since the Bush years, but also by President Obama’s eagerness to embrace social media.  In fact, Ms. Brayton shared that President Obama has avidly embraced digital platforms to reach a wider base of citizens.  He was the first president with a Twitter account, and he set a world record (broken soon after by Caitlyn Jenner) for establishing one million followers in a little over four hours on Twitter.  


Ms. Brayton answers questions after her talk to a prospective studentMs. Brayton discussed how her team in the Digital Strategy Office facilitated President Obama’s desire to have a strong social media presence.  She showed segments of his appearance on YouTube star sites (such as Swoozie and GloZell’s) as well as internet shows such as “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” with Jerry Seinfeld, and “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis.  These internet platforms allowed President Obama to reach a younger demographic of citizens who don’t normally tune into television news shows or read newspapers.  For example, his interview with GloZell in the White House reached her over four million followers.   Another initiative the Digital Strategy Office successfully employed was its $40 hashtag campaign on Obama’s Twitter account to extend the payroll tax cut that Republicans in the House wanted to eliminate (the tax cut amounted to $40 per two week paycheck).   The White House asked its 2.6 million followers what $40 a paycheck meant to them.  The response was overwhelming, with over 2,000 tweets per hour.  The groundswell from Twitter thwarted Republicans efforts to eliminate the payroll tax cut.

 Ms. Brayton shared other examples of the enormous reach that social media has in reaching citizens and how the Office of Digital Strategy continues to think creatively of ways of tapping into diverse social media and internet platforms to advance the President’s agenda.  She also discussed how social media sites are increasingly setting the agenda for the traditional news media to follow.  At the same time, she acknowledged the valid concerns critics have raised about presidential appearances on social media sites.   For example, while Obama’s interview with GloZell may have increased his accessibility and visibility to the people, does it come at the expense of the dignity of the office?   She also engaged the question if raising awareness campaigns on social media (dismissed by critics as “slacktivism”) have the same impact as traditional forms of on-the-ground activism.  These are questions that students were asked to wrestle with themselves  after this very lively and informative talk. 


Wednesday Symposia on Sustainability: Conservation and Creativity 

Paul Thiele, Ph.D., is a political theorist teaching about sustainability at the University of Florida where he is the Director of the Center for Adaptive Innovation, Resilience, Ethics and Science (UF CAIRES) and the author of the book, SUSTAINABILITY, which won the Choice award for Outstanding Academic Title.  Professor Thiele spoke to a group of about 75 students and faculty at the March 2nd Wednesday Night Symposium event  which was co-sponsored with the AAP Environmental Programs.   After discussing how sustainability is typically viewed as a 3-legged stool dependent upon: “planet, people and profit” (i.e., the environment, society and the economy), Thiele suggested the need for a “fourth leg” which he calls “cultural creativity.”  This emphasizes the critical importance of how humans take opportunities to engage, enrich and innovate to address any challenges they face.  Thiele suggests that we can live sustainably in a fast-changing world by employing 3 practical principles – “practiples” as he calls them:  1) There is no away; 2) Diversity serves resilience; and 3) Sufficient is beautiful.  To understand more, please view the recording of his talk or read his award winning book.



College Presidents Should Come from Academia

Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg, Chair of the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies, has a new opinion piece in the New York Times in response to the question of whether university presidents should come from academia or the the corporate world.  Ginsberg, in "College Presidents Should Come from Academia," argues that business people's management style, practical skills focus and customer-centric orientation renders them "unprepared and unqualified to manage a university."  Ginsberg writes:

University professors, conversely, make informed presidents. Indeed, most of the founders of America’s great universities were liberal arts professors. Cornell’s founder and first president, A.D. White, was an English professor. Johns Hopkins’s founder and first president, Daniel Coit Gilman, was a geography professor. The University of Chicago’s founder and first president, William Rainey Harper, was a professor of Greek, Latin and Hebrew.

Not a single one of these entrepreneurial scholars held an M.B.A. degree.

Read the full article here.