- 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.
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)
Trump Classifies Gun Stores, Shooting Ranges, and Weapon Manufactures Essential Businesses
- The Trump Administration has ruled that gun shops are an essential business during coronavirus lockdowns.
- This comes after several states and cities, including California, did not list firearm retailers as essential. The NRA hit California with a lawsuit, saying this choice “suffocates your self-defense rights when you need them most.”
- Not everyone has agreed with this ruling though. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the communications and documents that led the federal government to make this decision.
- While this debate has been going on, gun retailers say they have seen a significant spike in gun and ammunition sales since fears about the coronavirus became widespread.
Trump Admin Rules Gun Shops Essential
The federal government has ruled gun stores an essential business during coronavirus lockdowns, prompting gun control organizations to fight back.
On Monday night, the Trump administration listed firearms stores, manufacturers, shooting ranges, and other related businesses as essential during the pandemic. Their decision comes after strong debates over what should happen to gun shops during shelter-in-place orders. After sheriffs in Los Angeles and other officials in California said that these stores should not be considered essential and should close, the National Rifle Association hit the state with a lawsuit.
“Municipalities who target lawful gun stores for closure aren’t promoting safety,” Jason Ouimet, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Actions said in a statement. “By weaponizing their politics to disarm you and your loved ones, these shameless partisans are recklessly promoting a gun-control agenda that suffocates your self-defense rights when you need them most.”
The Department of Homeland Security also recommended that gun shops remain open. After the new federal ruling came down, California said it will be opening up gun shops again. The NRA thanked President Donald Trump for his administration’s decision in a tweet.
Opposition to Gun Stores Remaining Open
This ruling has not come without dissent, however. Over the past few weeks, many lawmakers have suggested that gun shops should close during the lockdown.
“There’s no reason why gun stores should be given this exception,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in a statement. “In fact, arming more Americans in their homes at a time of rising tension and anxiety seems more dangerous than ever.”
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has also been vocal about their opposition to this. On Tuesday morning, they said they will be filing a Freedom of Information Act request so they could see the communications and documents that led the government to decide gun shops should be essential.
“Americans have a right to know whether the Trump Administration is listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci or (NRA Executive) Wayne LaPierre when pushing to keep gun businesses open despite the risk of spreading coronavirus,” the group’s president, Kris Brown said in a statement. “The American people deserve answers as to whether our federal government has put industry interests and profits ahead of our public safety.“
Gun Sales See Bump Amid Coronavirus
This ruling comes as gun sales are on the rise, something sellers are saying is a direct response to fears of the coronavirus. Online retailer Ammo.com said it has seen increased purchases and website traffic since the virus became a widespread concern.
“While people have stockpiled toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and pantry essentials, they’ve also purchased ammunition at an unprecedented rate,” Ammo.com said on its website. “Here at Ammo.com, our growth in sales directly correlates with the rise of COVID-19 and its spread across the country.”
The increases the business has seen are staggering. Ammo.com has reported a 777% increase in revenue, 516% increase in transactions, and 350% increase in site traffic. It has also seen significantly higher conversion rates and order values.
NPR spoke to a gun shop owner in Tulsa, Oklahoma who said gun sales at his store have gone up 20%, while ammunition sales roughly quintupled.
Fears About Gun Ownership Amid Lockdowns
Increased gun ownership during this time of uncertainty and vulnerability does not sit well with everyone though. Gun control advocates fear that having people trapped inside with their weapons could lead to more gun violence.
As many are stuck inside due to lockdowns, there are already reports that domestic violence cases are increasing. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, if a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, the risk of homicide goes up by 500%.
There are also fears that because so many people are panic buying, there are now new gun owners who may be unfamiliar with gun safety measures. Gun deaths significantly increase when proper safety care is not taken. Death by suicide is three times greater in homes with loaded firearms versus a home with an unloaded firearm, a statistic that is also troublesome because of the toll social isolation takes on depression and mental health.
The Brady Campaign has also stated that eight children and teens are injured or killed a day due to an unlocked or unsupervised gun in the home. While kids cannot go to school and are spending more time at home than usual, some worry that this could lead to them getting their hands on a firearm.
Because of this, Brown has been advocating for all gun owners, new and old, to make sure they are being responsible with their weapons.
“While it is understandable to seek what can feel like protection in times of upheaval, we must acknowledge the risks that bringing guns into the home pose and take all appropriate measures to mitigate that risk,” Brown stated.
“In this uncertain time, we urge all gun owners to ensure that their weapons are safely stored,” Brown continued. “Just like we can all do our part to slow the spread of this virus, we can do our part to help prevent unintentional shootings in the home.”
See what others are saying: (NPR) (Wall Street Journal) (Reuters)
Judges Block 3 States From Limiting Abortions During Pandemic
- Judges in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama lifted restrictions that were placed on abortion procedures as the coronavirus emergency continues.
- The states deemed that all nonessential medical procedures should be postponed as facilities handle the virus, and they either explicitly included abortions in this category or remained unclear.
- After abortion clinics and rights groups filed lawsuits, judges across all three states ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on Monday and temporarily blocked the abortion bans.
- The groups protesting the bans celebrated, while some state officials threatened to appeal.
Bans Put in Place
Federal judges in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama have blocked restrictions that were set on abortions after the states deemed the procedure nonessential during the coronavirus health crisis.
Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order to postpone all medical procedures that are not immediately necessary in an effort to free up hospital space and equipment for COVID-19 treatment.
A statement from the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, released the following day, specified that this included “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.” Failure to comply with the order could have led to penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.
Similar mandates were issued by Ohio and Alabama officials earlier this month. Ohio’s Attorney General Dave Yost issued a letter to several clinics ordering them to temporarily stop providing abortions as well. In Alabama, an order was issued broadly limiting medical procedures during the outbreak. The Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office suggested abortion clinics could face prosecution under this order.
Hundreds of abortion appointments across these states were canceled following these bans, and legal action was swiftly taken.
The lawsuit in Texas was filed last week by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, representing abortion providers in the state.
On Monday, abortion rights groups and providers — including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — filed lawsuits against officials in Ohio and Alabama to block coronavirus-related abortion bans.
Similar lawsuits were filed in Iowa and Oklahoma on Monday.
Abortion Bans Deemed Unconstitutional
Federal judges sided with the plaintiffs in the Texas, Ohio, and Alabama lawsuits on Monday when they lifted the temporary abortion restrictions in each state.
Texas came first, when District Court Judge Lee Yeakel granted a temporary restraining order that prevents the ban from affecting abortion clinics across the state.
“The attorney general’s interpretation of the Executive Order prevents Texas women from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is their fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable,” Yeakel wrote.
Yeakel added he would “not speculate on whether the Supreme Court included a silent ‘except-in-a-national-emergency clause'” in its previous abortion rulings.
Yeakel’s order expires on April 13, when he has a hearing scheduled on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.
Later Monday night, Texas Attorney General Paxton said his office would appeal the ruling “to ensure that medical professionals on the frontlines have the supplies and protective gear they desperately need.”
According to a press release Tuesday, Paxton followed through on his word and filed for “immediate appellate review” in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Also on Monday, in Ohio, District Court Judge Michael Barrett sided with abortion rights groups and issued a two-week temporary restraining order on the state’s ban.
Barrett wrote an abortion ban would cause “irreparable harm” that does not outweigh the state’s reasoning for the order.
In a statement, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said the Health Department’s order was to “save lives in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency” and he will be taking action to achieve that goal, “be it an emergency appeal, a trial on the preliminary injunction, a more specifically drawn order or other remedy.”
Then in Alabama, District Court Judge Myron Thompson ordered the suspension of the state’s ban on abortion until April 13.
“Because Alabama law imposes time limits on when women can obtain abortions, the March 27 order is likely to fully prevent some women from exercising their right to obtain an abortion,” Thompson wrote Monday.
“And for those women who, despite the mandatory postponement, are able to vindicate their right, the required delay may pose an undue burden that is not justified by the State’s purported rationales,” Thompson added.
Dr. Yashica Robinson, an Alabama OB/ob-gyn and plaintiff in the case, told CNN she was “thrilled” by the decision and criticized the state order as “an attempt to attack access to essential health care under the guise of pandemic response.”
Plaintiffs in the Ohio and Texas cases had similar joyous reactions.
Chrisse France, the executive director of one of the clinics that received a letter from Yost’s office, told CNN she was “relieved” by the ruling.
“Everyone deserves to have access to safe, timely care and a delay of only a few weeks can make abortion completely inaccessible,” France said.
“This ruling sends a message to other states: Using this pandemic to ban abortion access is unconstitutional,” Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement after the Texas ruling was announced.
Other states, including Kentucky and Mississippi, are also still considering abortions as nonessential procedures during the coronavirus crisis.
Trump Boasts About TV Ratings as Reporters Debate Airing Coronavirus Press Conferences
- President Trump received backlash online after boasting about the TV ratings from his coronavirus briefing.
- Many users criticized the president for his remarks while confirmed cases and deaths from the coronavirus continue to grow significantly in the U.S.
- The tweets also furthered a debate about whether or not Trump’s briefings should be broadcast live on media outlets, with critics arguing that he often uses the time to spread misinformation.
- Others argue that cutting Trump’s briefings amounts to censorship.
Trump Gets Backlash for Ratings Tweets
President Donald Trump stirred up another controversy on Sunday after boasting about the ratings from his daily coronavirus news briefings.
“Because the ‘Ratings’ of my News Conferences etc. are so high, ‘Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football type numbers’ according to the @nytimes, the Lamestream Media is going CRAZY,” the president tweeted.
A little while later, Trump tweeted several excerpts from the same New York Times article he referenced early.
Numerous people took to Twitter to criticize Trump for bragging about his ratings while so many Americans are dying.
“More Americans have died from coronavirus than during the attack on Pearl Harbor and Trump is talking about ratings?” Scott Dworkin, the host of the podcast the Dworkin report, wrote in a tweet.
“While bodies were being placed on the back of a refrigerated truck outside Brooklyn hospital, America’s President was boasting about his #coronavirus press conferences television ratings,” tweeted pastor, activist, and radio host Bishop Talbert Swan.
Prominent conservative commentators also chimed in, like Ben Shapiro, who appeared to condemn Trump’s remarks while also accusing others of doing the same.
Celebrities like John Legend and Chrissy Teigen also jumped in to slam Trump and his remarks.
What the Article Actually Says
Others, however, pointed out that the president had inaccurately quoted the Times article and taken it out of content.
There are several things to note here. First of all, the article, written by Michael Grynbaum, is titled, “Trump’s Briefings Are a Ratings Hit. Should Networks Cover Them Live?”
“The president’s viewership has rivaled the audiences for hit reality shows and prime-time football,” the tagline reads. “But some worry about misinformation.”
In the very first sentence, Grynbaum opens the article, writing, “President Trump is a ratings hit, and some journalists and public health experts say that could be a dangerous thing.”
But when you look at Trump’s tweet he only includes the very first sentence, then skips the next part and moves on to the excerpt about ratings.
“And the audience is expanding even as Mr. Trump has repeatedly delivered information that doctors and public health officials have called ill informed, misleading or downright wrong,” Grynbaum continues.
The article then goes on to say that while journalists have long debated how to report on Trump’s “fabrications,” the coronavirus pandemic has “raised the stakes.”
“Now, the president’s critics say, lives are at risk,” Grynbaum writes.
Debate on Airing Trump’s Briefings
Grynbaum’s article brings up an important and growing debate over whether or not Trump’s press briefings should even be aired.
For a while now, those in favor of the idea have argued that Trump has been using his daily press briefings to lie, downplay the coronavirus, and generally spread misinformation, and as a result, it is in the public interest to stop airing them.
This is a point that has been made by a number of prominent journalists in recent weeks.
“If he keeps lying like he has been everyday on stuff this important, we should— all of us should stop broadcasting it, honestly. It’s going to cost lives,” Rachel Maddow said on her show a few weeks ago.
That sentiment was also echoed by Maddow’s fellow MSNBC anchor, Joe Scarborough.
“There is no public benefit to this briefing,” the Morning Joe host tweeted. “The networks should all cut away.”
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan also wrote an op-ed around the same time as Maddow’s remarks, arguing that the media should stop broadcasting Trump’s “dangerous, destructive coronavirus briefings.”
“More and more each day, President Trump is using his daily briefings as a substitute for the campaign rallies that have been forced into extinction by the spread of the novel coronavirus,” she wrote.
The idea seemed to gain momentum on Sunday following Trump’s controversial remarks about his ratings. More people began calling for networks to cut the briefings, and #BoycottTrumpPressConferences trended on Twitter.
Outlets Take Action
Some outlets have already taken action. Last week, the local NPR station in Seattle, KUOW, announced in a tweet that it would no longer be airing the president’s coronavirus press conferences.
The station explained that it would still cover the briefings, but that it would not broadcast them live “due to a pattern of false or misleading information provided that cannot be fact checked in real time.”
One day early, five of the six major networks stopped airing the briefing partway through.
According to the Associated Press, the networks ABC, CBS and NBC cut away after the first 20 minutes, while CNN and MSNBC held out a little longer, and only Fox stuck it out to the end.
White House spokesman Judd Deere criticized CNN and MSNBC in a tweet for cutting early, calling the move “disgraceful.”
A CNN reporter responded in another tweet, quoting a spokesperson who said: “If the White House wants to ask for time on the network, they should make an official request. Otherwise we will make our own editorial decisions.”
CBS also made a similar comment, but MSNBC took a much harder stance, with a representative telling reporters that they, “cut away because the information no longer appeared to be valuable to the important ongoing discussion around public health.”
However, on the other side, some have argued that cutting the press briefings amounts to censorship.