“It gives me a right to my hand and my shoulders, my head, my knees, my toes and my face.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on Tuesday temporarily hijacked a congressional hearing about facial recognition technology to talk about her uterus and identity politics.
Speaking in her capacity as a member of the House Oversight Committee, Ocasio-Cortez started out with a standard warning about the privacy threat posed by the biometric system. But she quickly attempted to tie the issue to abortion rights.
Following confused exchanges with two legal scholars, Ocasio-Cortez turned to ACLU lawyer Neema Singh Guliani.
“What was the Supreme Court case that identified the right to privacy?” the freshman congresswoman asked, clearly hoping Guliani would say Roe v. Wade, a 1973 ruling the guaranteed access to abortion.
But Guliani failed to take the hint. Instead, she explained that the right to privacy has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the court. She suggested that the Fourth Amendment – rather than the 14th, which was at the heart of Roe – was most relevant to legal questions about the use of facial recognition technology for surveillance.
Ocasio-Cortez pressed: “Yes, and was there a landmark Supreme Court decision that established that, that we’ve seen recently?”
Still not picking up on her questioner’s Woke Twitter logic, Guliani cited a “series of cases” in which the court found that law enforcement officials need a warrant to gather information electronically.
Ocasio-Cortez went ahead and made the abortion connection herself.
“Most specifically, with relation to the 14th Amendment, it was Roe v. Wade that established the right to privacy,” she said. “Is that correct?”
Guliani generously offered: “Roe v. Wade, the right to privacy was addressed there as well.”
Ocasio-Cortez then launched into a monologue about the feminist glory of the 14th Amendment, which saw her listing her body parts.
“Right, so … part of the case in our right to privacy is that this doesn’t just give us a right to my uterus. It gives me a right to my hand and my shoulders, my head, my knees, my toes and my face,” she said. “We also see here that this is about our entire body, our right to our entire body, and the similar principle that keeps a legislator out of my womb is the same principle that would keep facebook and algorithms off of all of our faces. So do you think it’s fair to draw that connection?
“I think that when we’re talking about privacy it is important to talk about more than our face,” Guliani said politely.
Seemingly satisfied that she’d established a woman’s right to choose, Ocasio-Cortez abandoned her concern about facial recognition technology’s oppressive power. Instead, she shifted her focus to its weakness when it comes to identifying people other that white men.
“We saw that these algorithms are effective to different degrees. So are they most effective on women?” Ocasio-Cortez asked Joy Buolamwini, the founder of the Algorithm Justice League, a facial recognition technology watchdog for social justice.
“No,” said Buolamwini.
The activist went on to confirm, in almost-Twitter thread style, that facial recognition technology is also not “most effective” on “people of color’ and “different gender expressions.”
“And who are the primary engineers and designers of these algorithms?” Ocasio-Cortez asked.
“Definitely white men,” Buolamwini replied, sadly.
“So we have a technology that was created and designed by one demographic that is only mostly effective on that one demographic, and they’re trying to sell it and impose it on the entirety of the country?” Ocasio-Cortez asked in faux-bewilderment.
“We have the pale male data sets being used as something that’s universal when that isn’t actually the case when it comes to representing the full sepia of humanity,” Buolamwini said.
“And do you think that this could exacerbate the already egregious inequalities in our criminal justice system,” Ocasio-Cortez followed-up.
“It already is,” Buolamwini said.
“They start to automate subconscious bias.”
Ocasio-Cortez seems to have developed a strategy of grandstanding at congressional hearings, and then amplifying her message on Twitter. In keeping with that approach, she on Wednesday tweeted out a C-SPAN video of her performance the day before, along with some additional commentary.
“When tech companies develop algorithms that automate the assumptions of people from one demo, they start to automate subconscious bias,” she said. “When those flawed algorithms get sold to law enforcement, it can be disastrous for anyone that doesn’t look like most Silicon Valley engineers.”
When tech companies develop algorithms that automate the assumptions of people from one demo, they start to automate subconscious bias.
When those flawed algorithms get sold to law enforcement, it can be disastrous for anyone that doesn’t look like most Silicon Valley engineers. https://t.co/SKxhYUgZEj
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 22, 2019
She apparently decided to let the abortion angle go.
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks at a House Oversight Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 2019.: C-SPAN