I Can Do All Things Through Technology, Which Enables Me: Churches, Facial Recognition and Spiritual Dynamics

Alex FrancoBy Alexandra Franco, JD

In my work as a privacy lawyer, I’ve become slightly desensitized to the pervasive privacy invasions that we have learned to live with—the fact that Facebook is well-aware of my love of makeup and will constantly remind me of “cool new eyeshadows to try” is something I don’t even think about anymore. However, there is a new technology threatening privacy that struck me as particularly appalling.

A company called Churchix provides churches with facial recognition software “designed for Church administrators and event managers who want to save the pain of manually tracking their members attendance to their events.” The software allows users to “receive demographic data of people attending [their] event (Gender, Age),” and “receive identification reports for a specific event, group of events and attendance of a specific member.” To get the facial recognition software going, churches must first take photos of their faithful to “register and enroll into the data base of Churchix.” After this, the churches will have access to streamlined, automatic attendance data—and won’t have to go through what Churchix calls the “pain” of personal interaction with their attendees.

The number of churches currently using this technology is as high as 40. Speaking at a conference at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, privacy attorney and partner at Edelson PC, Ari Scharg, mentioned that this technology is being used to track people’s church attendance patterns, such as how often they attend and how early they arrive, and that the churches can use this information to understand how much money church goers can be asked to donate.

Churchix claims that despite “honest concerns over privacy” and people’s “‘Big BrotChurch 4her’ mentality” about what the technology entails, it “think[s] that [such beliefs] are mostly a bad feeling derived from a possible abuse of the technology rather than actual threats.” The company website explains that “on the contrary, face recognition software helps catching the bad guys… .” But even the company’s own PR efforts on its website include articles that criticize Churchix for the serious privacy concerns that its technology raises.

As Michael Casey from CBS News says, “the growth of this [facial recognition] technology has far outpaced any efforts to regulate it… .” and if it keeps going the way it is going, it will be very difficult for regulatory bodies to take a stand fast enough to make a difference. The technology is already being used by advertisers in shopping malls to analyze what you are looking at on a store shelf, analyze your demographic information based on your facial characteristics and later show you a targeted advertisement with another item that you may be interested in based on all of this information. Churchix is a branch of Face-Six, the facial recognition business that offers the technology to shopping malls. In addition to offering its services to churches (through Churchix) and shopping malls, Face-Six offers its services to airports, border control, law enforcement, casinos and also for home security purposes.

When a single company is behind all of the different applications of the technology—from shopping malls and targeted advertisements to church attendance—how do we know that  people’s images uploaded to the Churchix database will not end up being used to sell them religious books later when they visit a mall that uses the same technology? What if you have been missing church for a few weeks, would you like to see an advertisement for a book about “regaining your faith?”

A few states—such as Illinois—have enacted laws protecting people’s biometric information. The Illinois statute protects people’s biometric identifiers, such as “a retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, or scan of hand or face geometry,” among other things, by requiring that entities planning to collect such data inform the person in writing before collecting it, tell the person for how long and for what purpose they are collecting the data and have the person sign a written release. It also prohibits entities from selling or profiting from someone’s biometric data and requires that entities in possession of such data develop policies and procedures for its destruction.  However, Illinois is one of a few states currently taking steps to protect people’s biometric information and we are still far away from a comprehensive national regulatory regime.

Let’s instead think about this for a moment from the perspective of individual church members and the church community as a whole. Faith is a deeply personal thing which should be between the person and that which he or she believes in, something out of the human realm and out of the reach of human hands. It is a sacred communication between the person and something that transcends the physically human. Is it okay for a third eye in the sky to observe that person’s movements in and out of his or her place of worship? What are the deeper connotations of a pervasive intervention between a person and his or her faith? If church goers become aware that their movements in and out of the church are constantly being tracked, this may alter their church-going habits (as they may dislike being observed and tracked without having control over it) and may decide to stop attending church altogether. On the other hand, those who refuse to give up going to church will always have to think about that third eye who knows whether he or she went to church last week or not.

And what happens if we were to replace the word “church” in the last paragraph with the word “mosque”? It is not hard to imagine the potential for profiling and even more invasive targeting this technology—which works across different settings through the photo database—can bring.

For the most part, places of worship are still the heart and soul of their respective communities. They are groups of families and individuals who look out for each other and have each other’s back. When a congregation member is absent for a long time, other members will express their concern and reach out. If such interactions are interrupted by an automated attendance tracker, will it interfere with the community’s spiritual dynamics? To what extent will we allow technologies to alter human dynamics in their most essential manifestations? Only time will tell.

This isn’t about makeup. This is one of the most personal and private aspects of a person’s life, and we should not become desensitized to technologies which invade it.

Alexandra Franco is a Research Associate at the Institute for Science, Law and Technology at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.  The title of this essay is based on Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Digital Sexual Assault: A Disturbing Trend

IMG_20141106_142756

 

 

By Colleen Canniff

“Hopefully the Class of 2018 is paying attention, because otherwise the UEA is going to have to rape harder…”

In the fall of 2014, the incoming University of Chicago freshman class and the wider University of Chicago (UC) community were targeted and threatened as an anonymous hacker group, UChicago Electronic Army (UEA), posted the name of a sexual assault survivor and activist, purportedly in retaliation of the posting of The Hyde Park list.  The Hyde Park List, posted to Tumblr, was compiled by and for UC students and contained a list of UC students who, according to the list, are “individuals we would warn our friends about, because of their troubling behavior towards romantic or sexual partners.”  The original purpose of the list was to “[keep] the community safe—since the University won’t.”  One could argue that the UEA’s actions were out of a concern of denying due process to the students named.  But their method—threatening rape, and naming and identifying a victim of sexual assault—is a prime example of a troubling trend on the internet: using threats of sexual violence to silence individuals with whom a group of people doesn’t agree with.  As threats go online, the law is racing to keep up.

The UC incident is just the tip of the digital-assault iceberg.  Other reports of online sexual assault such as the iCloud hack, theft, and online release of dozens of celebrities’ personal nude photos, YouTuber Sam Peppers’ videos of sexually harassing women on the street, and the continued threats against Anita Sarkeesian, founder of Feminist Frequency (a website where she discusses and critiques female representations in videogames), exemplify the pervasiveness of online sexual violence against women. Continue reading

DRONE SEASON: Can You Shoot Down a Drone That Flies Over Your Property?

Michael Holloway Liberty Image 12.12.13 CC_smallBy Michael Holloway

As unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – drones – become an increasingly common sight, more and more people wonder whether they may legally shoot down a drone flying over their property.  The question is not confined to a radical fringe: at a 2012 Congressional hearing on drones, U.S. Representative Louis Gohmert asked, “Can you shoot down a drone over your property?”  Separately, conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer offered: “I would predict—I’m not encouraging—but I predict the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that’s been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country.”

Traditionally, under the ad coeium doctrine, a property owner had control over his property “from the depths to the heavens.”  According to Black’s Law Dictionary, “Cjust est solum, ejus est usque ad coelom et ad inferos – to whomever the soil belongs, he owns also to the sky and the depths.”  But that changed with the advent of the airplane.  In 1926, Congress passed the Air Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 40103(a)(1), which gave the federal government “exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.”  In United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256, 261 (1946), Justice William Douglas wrote that the ad coeium doctrine “has no place in the modern world.”  Rather, with the advent of air travel, the national airspace is akin to a “public highway.”  But despite this, a property owner retains exclusive control over the space he or she can reasonably use in connection with the land, and may be entitled to compensation if the government encroaches on this airspace.  Similarly, as the Ninth Circuit pointed out in Hinman v. Pacific Air Transport, a person may become liable to a property owner for trespassing on this space.

Nor are these merely idle threats: a group of animal rights activists in Pennsylvania has repeatedly had its drones shot down while aerially videotaping “pigeon shoots” at a private club.  In April 2014, the town of Deer Trail, Colorado, voted on a proposed ordinance to issue drone hunting licenses; the ordinance offered a $100 bounty for shooting down drones and bringing in “identifiable parts of an unmanned aerial vehicle whose markings and configuration are consistent with those used on any similar craft known to be owned or operated by the United States federal government.”  The initiative ultimately lost badly, with 73% of voters opposed.

Law professor Greg McNeal writes that a person shooting down a government or commercial drone would violate constitute a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 32, which states that anyone who damages or destroys any aircraft in flight in the United States has committed a crime punishable by up to twenty years in prison or a fine of up to $250,000.  McNeal’s analysis assumes that drones constitute “aircraft” within the meaning of the statute, but that has recently come into question.  In March 2014, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) administrative law judge set aside the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s first-ever fine against a commercial drone operator, finding that the small drone at issue was only a “model aircraft,” and not an “aircraft” within the FAA’s regulatory authority.  The drone’s operator, Raphael Pirker, had been hired by a promotional company to shoot aerial video over the University of Virginia campus.  According to the FAA’s complaint, Pirker operated the drone recklessly, including causing one pedestrian to take “immediate evasive action” to avoid being hit.  The FAA fined Pirker $10,000 for operating the drone “in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another” in violation of 41 C.F.R. § 91.13.

The ALJ tossed the fine, pointing to a 1981 “advisory circular” on model aircraft issued by the FAA, which provided model aircraft operators with voluntary advice such as to maintain distance from populated and noise-sensitive areas, fly below 400 feet, and cooperate with nearby airports.  In the ALJ’s view, the advisory circular represented a binding statement of policy by the FAA that model airplanes were exempt from its general regulatory authority over “aircraft,” a position it could not change later without going through a notice-and-comment period and implementing formal regulations under the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. §§ 500).

There are problems with the ALJ’s decision.  It ignores that Congress, by the statute’s clear terms, in 5 U.S.C. §§ 500, gave the FAA the express authority to regulate all “aircraft,” defined expansively in 49 U.S.C. § 40102(a)(6) as “any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air.”  Ordinarily, when a statute’s terms are clear, it is considered improper for a judge to engage in more subtle acts of interpretation, and the statute here could not be clearer.  While the ALJ considered it a “risible argument” that someone could face FAA enforcement for flying a balsa wood glider or paper airplane without the FAA’s permission, such is the power Congress gave to the FAA in 1926.  The case is currently on appeal before the full NTSB.

In any case, whether or not shooting down a drone could result in a 20-year prison term or a quarter-million dollar fine, it is certainly a bad idea.  As the FAA has stated, shooting down a drone “could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane.”   Expressing your concerns directly to your friendly neighborhood drone pilot is surely a better remedy.

California’s Revenge Porn Statute: A Start but not a Solution

Blog Photo_Lori

By Lori Andrews

Susan, a professional woman in her 30s, met a man she thought she’d ultimately marry.  Their relationship was sufficiently intimate that she sent him a naked photo of herself.  When she caught him cheating, she broke up with him.  He took revenge by posting that selfie on a revenge porn website, along with her name, the name of her town, and her social media contact information.  She received messages from complete strangers asking for more naked photos.  As she went about her daily life, she was afraid that one of those men would stalk her.  She worried that her co-workers might have come across the photo.  She knew that if she applied for a new job, that nude photo would come up in a Google search of her name.  She’d been branded with a modern Scarlet Letter.

Across the Web, thousands of people attack their exes by posting disgusting comments about them, warnings not to date them, or nude photos of them.  On October 1, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill criminalizing what has become known as revenge porn.  The law assesses a thousand dollar fine in a narrow situation.  It is a misdemeanor for a person to photograph “the intimate body part or parts of another identifiable person, under circumstances where the parties agree or understand that the image shall remain private, and the person subsequently distributes the image taken, with the intent to cause serious emotional distress, and the depicted person suffers serious emotional distress.” Continue reading