Connect with us

U.S.

UCLA Drops Controversial Facial Recognition Plan

Published

on

  • After backlash from students and activist groups, UCLA is dropping its plans to use facial recognition on campus.
  • Critics said the software often fails when recognizing women and people of color, and could lead to racial profiling. 
  • UCLA released a statement, just over a week before a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses is set to be held, saying that the school longer thinks the technology would be effective at the school.
  • The use of facial recognition software on college campuses and on a national level has long been a subject of debate. Several cities have already banned it, and last week, two Senators proposed legislation banning it on a federal level unless Congressional guidelines are enacted. 

UCLA Stops Plans to Use Facial Recognition

After backlash from students and activists, the University of California, Los Angeles has dropped its plans to use facial recognition technology on its campus.

UCLA announced plans to potentially use it in its security systems. Students were concerned that this technology could interfere with students’ privacy and lead to racial profiling on campus. 

“We have determined that the potential benefits are limited and are vastly outweighed by the concerns of the campus community,” Michael Beck, the Administrative Vice-Chancellor of the school said in a statement to Fight for the Future, a group advocating for freedom in the digital age.

Fight for the Future is holding a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses on March 2. The group had been very vocal when encouraging UCLA not to adopt facial recognition. They did a test on how effective it would be at the school and found racial biases in its algorithm.

Inaccuracies in Facial Recognition

Fight for the Future used Rekognition, a software made available by Amazon, and scanned publicly available photos of UCLA athletes and faculty and compared them to a mugshot database. They scanned 400 faces in total and said that 58 were falsely matched. 

“The vast majority of incorrect matches were of people of color,” Fight for the Future said of their findings. “In many cases, the software matched two individuals who had almost nothing in common beyond their race, and claimed they were the same person with ‘100% confidence.’”

They are not the only group to find this. According to a study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in terms of one-to-one matching, there are higher rates of false positives for Asian and African American faces in comparison to white faces. They specifically noticed increased false positives when it came to African American females.

Student Concerns

Students at UCLA expressed their concerns about this. An editorial in the school’s paper, the Daily Bruin, warned against using facial recognition because of the potential inaccuracies and profiling of people of color.

“For students belonging to these groups, facial recognition technology would simply reinforce the biases that are already stacked against them,” the piece said. The editorial listed privacy as a concern as well.

“Facial recognition technology would present a major breach of students’ privacy and make students feel unsafe on a campus they are supposed to call home,” the Daily Bruin editorial staff wrote. “It is one thing to monitor campus activity with security cameras, but it’s another entirely to automatically identify individuals and track their every move on campus.”

Students and advocacy groups like Fight for the Future were pleased with UCLA’s ultimate decision to not use facial recognition.

“Let this be a lesson to other school administrators: if you try to experiment on your campus with racist, invasive surveillance technology, we will come for you. And we don’t lose,” Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, Evan Greer, said in a statement.

Facial Recognition on a National Scale

UCLA is not the only college in the United States having a conversation about facial recognition. Fight for the Future has been keeping a scorecard of schools that have stated their intentions on using facial recognition. While big schools like Harvard, MIT, Michigan State, and NYU have said they do not intend on using it, other major colleges like Ohio State, Princeton, and the University of Georgia have stated that they might. 

Outside of colleges, other localities have already been working on fighting against facial recognition technology. In 2019, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban facial recognition technology. Somerville, MA, Oakland, CA and Berkeley, CA did the same months later. 

Still, this kind of technology is still used on a wide scale. According to Vox, in states like Texas, Florida, and Illinois, the FBI uses it to scan through DMV databases. In many U.S. airports, Customs and Border Protection uses it for screening passengers on international flights. 

Recently Proposed Legislation

The national use of this could be subject to change, though. In February, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-)R) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) proposed legislation that would ban federal use of facial recognition until proper regulations and rules had been established by Congress for it.

“Facial recognition is a technology that is increasingly being used and marketed to law enforcement agencies across the United States without appropriate debate or consideration of its impacts,” the bill said before describing that this technology has been used at protests, rallies, and other events where one’s’ freedom of speech is on display.

“It is critical that facial recognition not be used to suppress First Amendment related activities, violate privacy, or otherwise adversely impact individuals’ civil rights and civil liberties,” the legislation continued. 

This legislation would still allow law enforcement to use it if given a court order.

See what others are saying: (Vice) (USA Today) (TechCrunch)

Advertisements

U.S.

US Records 4.8 million Job Gains in June, But Let’s Look at the Full Picture

Published

on

  • The jobs report for June showed that the U.S. gained 4.8 million jobs back last month and the unemployment rate fell to 11.1% from 13.3% in May.
  • President Trump touted the report in a press conference, saying the U.S. is seeing record-breaking numbers and that economy was coming back strong.
  • However, as many pointed out, unemployment is still the highest its been since World War II and over 1 million people are still filing for unemployment every week.
  • Others also noted that the data from the report is from the week of June 12 and does not show the recent business closures made by governors in several states reimposing restrictions due to coronavirus spikes.
  • Economists have warned that the renewed closures in some states and the fact that many other states have slowed their planned reopenings will result in more layoffs.

June Jobs Report

The U.S. economy gained 4.8 million jobs in June and the unemployment rate fell to 11.1% from 13.3% the month before, according to a monthly report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Thursday.

Following the publication of the June report, President Donald Trump touted the new numbers during a press conference Thursday morning.

“Today’s announcement proves that our economy is roaring back,” he said. “It’s coming back extremely strong.” 

“This is not just luck, what’s happening. This is a lot of talent,” he continued. “All of this incredible news is the result of historic actions my administration has taken working with our partners in Congress to rescue the U.S. economy.”

Trump also repeatedly claimed the job gains and employment numbers provided in the BLS report were record-breaking on multiple fronts.

However, many have noted that the only reason the U.S. is seeing record-breaking job gains is because it has experienced the record-breaking job losses. 

That fact has even been echoed by members of Trump’s administration, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who acknowledged that unemployment is still extremely high by historical standards at the press conference Thursday.

Throughout the pandemic, American’s have seen unemployment rates similar to that of the Great Depression. Even now, unemployment is still the highest its been since World War II.

What the Data Shows

There are still over 17 million American’s unemployed, according to the BLS report. While it is true that we gained 4.8 million jobs back last month, more than 1 million people filed for unemployment every week in June including this past week, which saw 1.4 new claims.

There are also a number of other indicators in the BLS data that show that American’s are hurting.

For example, while the number of people temporarily laid off decreased by 4.8 million, the number of permanent job losses actually increase last month, rising by over half a million to 2.9 million total. 

That suggests that many of the people going back to work are those who were furloughed during the shutdowns, meaning that the economy is simply getting back jobs it had temporarily lost, not adding or creating new jobs. 

That fact was also noted by numerous Twitter users who sought to point out the holes in the president’s remarks. 

“No, Trump did NOT create 4.8 million jobs in June – some people went back to their old jobs,” one user wrote.

Many other users also compared the unemployment rates of Black people and other people of color to that of white people, likely in response to Trump championing minority job growth while speaking at the press conference Thursday.

“African-American workers, really happily for me, made historic gains, with 400,000 jobs added last month alone and that’s a record,” he said. “Hispanic employment is up by 1.5 million jobs, a record by a lot.” 

However, the BLS data minority unemployment has consistently remained higher than white unemployment— especially for Black people. In fact, according to a report from Reuters, the gap in U.S. Black and white unemployment rates is widest its been five years.

“Jobless rates for both groups fell in June, but the rate for whites came down at a much faster rate. The white unemployment rate fell 2.3 percentage points to 10.1% from 12.4%, while the rate for Blacks dropped 1.4 points to 15.4% from 16.8%,” the report said.

According to the BLS data, unemployment fell from last both groups in general, the unemployment rate among Black men over 20 actually rose from May to June, growing from 15.5% to 16.3%

While the discrepancy between Black and white unemployment was the most significant, white unemployment is still quite a bit lower than Hispanic unemployment which was 14.5% last month, and Asian unemployment, which was 13.8%.

Those numbers appear to support the claims of numerous experts who have said that people of color have been disproportionately hurt by the economic crisis.

“Disproportionately, the layoffs have been in lower wage occupations, in lower wage positions,” Gary Burtless, a labor economist at the Brookings Institution told the New York Times. “That has disproportionately affected African-Americans and Hispanics.”

Growing Concerns

While the BLS report does show the discrepancies between Trump’s rosy outlook and reality, it is only part of the picture.

There are several issues with the BLS data, and the agency has made readily apparent. It has repeatedly warned that the actual unemployment numbers are higher than what has been reported because of flaws in the data collection process. On Thursday, the BLS said that it believes the official unemployment rate for June is actually a whole percentage point higher.

But that is not the only problem. Arguably the biggest issue is that the data in this report was taken the week ending June 12, and since then, a number of states have shut down businesses again in response to the recent spikes in coronavirus cases.

Just in the last week, the governors of Florida and Texas have shut down bars and other commercial activities. California has stopped indoor restaurant dining and closed movie theaters in most major cities. Arizona has also shut down water parks, bars, and gyms.

Numerous other states have postponed their planned reopenings. As a result, some workers are now reportedly getting laid off for the second time. 

Those closures and delays are expected to grow as cases continue to surge. On Thursday, the U.S. reported a new record of 50,000 coronavirus cases on a single day. New cases have risen a whopping 50% in the last month, according to the Washington Post

With those numbers rising and states with huge economies like Texas and California reimposing restrictions, many economists are worried that Americans will see more layoffs.

“The virus drives the economics,” Betsey Stevenson, a member of former President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers told the Times. “We’re not going to have people going back to work. In fact, we’re going to see more people staying home.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The New York Times) (The Washington Post)

Advertisements
Continue Reading

U.S.

Jeffrey Epstein Confidante Ghislaine Maxwell Arrested

Published

on

  • Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and confidante of Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested by the FBI in New Hampshire Thursday morning.
  • Maxwell has long been accused of helping Epstein in an alleged scheme to sex traffic underage girls. 
  • She is being charged with: enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, two related conspiracy charges, and two perjury charges. 
  • According to the indictment against her, Maxwell would befriend young women for Epstein, knowing he would later abuse them. She would also allegedly help create and normalize the environment in which they were abused, and in some cases was present for their abuse. 
  • She has repeatedly denied the allegations against her and is expected to appear in front of a federal court Thursday afternoon.

Maxwell Arrested in New Hampshire

Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein’s long time associate who has been accused of helping him in his alleged sex trafficking schemes, was arrested on Thursday morning in New Hampshire.

Maxwell has been charged with six counts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, two related conspiracy charges, and two perjury charges. She has consistently denied allegations that she procured minors for Epstein.

Last year, Epstein was charged with sex trafficking and later died in his jail cell in August, with authorities ruling his death a suicide. Epstein, a wealthy financier who ran in powerful social circles, had long been accused of grooming underage girls for sex. In 2008, he was convicted of procuring a minor for prositution in Florida. 

Maxwell is a British socialite known to be Epstein’s close friend, and at one point, girlfriend. After he was charged in 2019, she seemingly went off the grid. News tabloids speculated on her whereabouts for months, as she was connected to the high profile case and implicated by many of Epstein’s alleged victims. 

“Maxwell assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18,” an unsealed indictment claims. “The victims were as young as 14 years old when they were groomed and abused by Maxwell and Epstein, both of whom knew that certain victims were in fact under the age of 18.”

In addition to this, the indictment claims that Maxwell attempted to conceal her crimes and lied when she was questioned about her conduct, including one instance where she was under oath in 2016. 

Details of Indictment

According to the indictment, Maxwell would attempt to befriend underage girls by asking them about their lives. She and Epstein would take them to the movies or on shopping trips. During these outings, the victims were either allegedly alone with Maxwell or Epstein, or with both of them at once.

“Having developed a rapport with a victim, Maxwell would try to normalize sexual abuse for a minor victim by, among other things, discussing sexual topics, undressing in front of the victim, being present when a minor victim was undressed, and/or being present for sex acts involving the minor victim and Epstein,” the indictment continues. 

Apparently, having Maxwell in the room during these interactions “helped put the victims at ease because an adult woman was present.”

The indictment said Maxwell normalized abuse by massaging Epstein in front of victims, and then encouraging the victims to massage Epstein themselves. Many of those massages involved a minor being nude or partially nude, and then led to Epstein sexually abusing them. 

According to the indictment, these crimes happened at Epstein’s residences in New York, Palm Beach, New Mexico and London. While many have accused Maxwell of partaking in this behavior for a long time, this indictment specifically refers to crimes alleged to have happened between 1994 and 1997. 

Maxwell is expected to appear in front of a federal court Thursday afternoon.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The Guardian) (Bloomberg)

Advertisements
Continue Reading

U.S.

NYC Cuts $1 Billion From Police Budget as Protestors Occupy City Hall

Published

on

Photo by Reed Dunlea for Rolling Stone

  • New York’s City council announced that they were cutting $1 billion from the police budget⁠—a demand made by protesters who have been occupying the area in front of City Hall for over a week.
  • However, less than half of the proposed “cuts” actually cut money. Most of the funding being taken away from the police department is just being shifted to other departments.
  • Even then, the largest cut is to overtime pay, and DeBlasio has openly said he’s not sure if the cuts can be made if the protests continue. The biggest funding shift is to place school safety officers under the purview of the Education Department⁠—which already pays for the officers.
  • Numerous activists and city councilmembers condemned the plan, saying it falls way short, including the Council Speaker, who helped draft the proposal, and who blamed Mayor Bill De Blasio for the lacking legislation. 

New York City Council Announces Cuts

The New York City Council announced Tuesday that it was cutting $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) $6 billion operating budget, and moving some of those funds to education and social services.

The decision comes amid intensifying pressure for cities nationwide to reduce the amount of funding allocated to their police departments⁠— which represents the single highest budget expenditure for most major cities. 

While several cities have taken steps to scale back police funding at ⁠some level, many have been closely watching New York City, which is home to the largest and most expensive police force in the country.

With the city’s July 1 budget deadline looming, there has been increased pressure for officials to act. Over the last week, hundreds of protesters have been occupying the area outside of city hall— with many camping out overnight— to demand deeper cuts to the police budget.

The protest first started last Tuesday when about 100 people occupied City Hall Park, and since then, it has grown significantly. Some activists have reportedly said they will still stay after the budget deadline, but the general aim of the organizers who put together the demonstrations was to get the city council to cut the police budget by $1 billion.

NYPD Budget Cuts

While Tuesday’s announcement may sound like the city council gave the protesters exactly what they wanted, that is not the case for a number of reasons.

First of all, less than half the so-called “cuts” actually cut any funding. According to a press release from Mayor Bill De Blasio’s office, only $430 million will be actually cut from the department’s budget, while the $537 million will just be shifted to other departments.

Even then, some of the cuts are still up in the air. For example, the biggest single cut is more than $350 in overtime pay, but De Blasio has said that might not be possible if protests or other things that require a lot of police happen.

Just since George Floyd’s death on May 25, NYPD paid out $115 million in overtime.

There are also some major holes in the funding that’s being shifted to other departments. For example, over $400 million of funds they say they are shifting will be moved to school safety officers to be under the purview of the Department of Education. 

However, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office, the Education Department already funds that program and gives the Police Department $300 million a year to operate it. In other words, one of the biggest funding “shifts” is not a shift at all— it just means that the Education Department will now operate a program it was already funding.

Responses

Numerous people have responded to the announcement with anger, arguing that the move is simply smoke and mirrors and that the city is just shifting the money around without making any substantive cuts to the police budget.

“Defunding police means defunding police,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said in a statement. “It does not mean budget tricks or funny math.”

“It does not mean moving school police officers from the NYPD budget to the Department of Education’s budget so the exact same police remain in schools. It does not mean counting overtime cuts as cuts, even as NYPD ignores every attempt by City Council to curb overtime spending and overspends on overtime anyways,” she continued.

“These proposed ‘cuts’ to the NYPD budget are a disingenuous illusion. This is not a victory. The fight to defund policing continues.”

A number of protest leaders and organizers echoed that sentiment, saying the proposal was not what they asked for.

“We are being gaslit,” said activist Jawanza James Williams. “This movement is about so much more than the $1 billion, and this means they don’t understand what we’re saying.”

Numerous city council members also voiced their dislike of the plan, including Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who helped lead the process in drafting the proposal.

“To everyone who is disappointed — and I know that there are many, many people who are disappointed that we could not go further, I am disappointed as well,” he said. “I wanted us to go deeper.”

“This is a budget process that involves the mayor who would not budge on these items,” Johnson added, placing the blame squarely on De Blasio.

Other council members also said the cuts did not go far enough, like Councilman Brad Lander, who voted no on the proposal and called it “more budget-dancing than meaningful reductions.”

However, at the same time, there were plenty of council members that opposed the cuts because they did not want the police budget to be reduced at all.

“We know what we’re doing and we know that what we’re doing will create a more violent city, and yet we’re doing it anyway,” said Councilman Joseph Borelli.

“Black folks want to be safe like everyone else, we just want to be respected,” Councilman I. Daneek Miller, co-chairman of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, said. “We can’t allow folks from outside our community to lecture us about Black lives and what we need in our communities.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (TIME) (The New York Post)

Advertisements
Continue Reading