IGF 2019 WS #329 "Facing" it: Challenges for Facial Recognition in the South

Organizer 1: Louise Marie Hurel, Igarapé Institute
Organizer 2: Luisa Cruz Lobato, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro

Speaker 1: Fabro Steibel, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 2: Anri van der Spuy, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 3: Elonnai Hickok, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Policy Question(s): 

IMPORTANT** Full Title: "Facing" it: The Unmapped Challenges for Facial Recognition in the Global South

How can we better explore and understand the different national regulatory experiences in implementing facial recognition?
What should we consider as a proportionate and responsible use of this technology?
How and to what extent can the experiences of Global South countries inform this debate?
How can a situated understanding of the application of facial recognition advance in developing guidelines and or regulatory frameworks for responsible use of technology?

Relevance to Theme: This workshop session proposal has three main aims that speak directly to the challenge of ensuring that the benefits of the data revolution are not restricted to the developed world and to wealthy elites within developing states. The first aim is ensuring that, when it comes to making sense of the data practices associated with the production and use of facial recognition technologies, the contexts of developing societies is taken into account. This includes paying attention to how governments and companies develop, quite often in hybrid partnerships, infrastructures of urban management and surveillance with different degrees of coordination and to how these local developments potentially influence the ways in which data about citizens and city life is collected, processed and stored by algorithms/AI technology developed to aid/inform public authorities' activities and/or with private purposes. Closely interrelated, the second aim involves diagnosing the challenges to data governance that are presented by facial recognition technologies in North and South contexts, such as insufficient and/or lack of comprehensive regulation shaped not only in the interest of the companies seeking to explore that market and the implications of the different purposes attributed to facial recognition technologies in the contexts of emerging economies. However, regulation on facial recognition is just emerging (take the San Francisco case) and there are varied purposes at steak (add-on to the Chinese social credit score system, for example) which also makes us question what are the contrasts and shared challenges in both these contexts (North and South). The third aim that speaks directly to the data governance track at the IGF is diagnosing the kinds of positive and negative contributions that Global South experiences could offer to the debate on facial recognition (e.g., increasing surveillance and control on the Internet or providing more nuanced perspectives on data governance) and, more specifically, discussing how situated experiences could positively contribute with global efforts to develop guidelines and regulation on facial recognition.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Discussions around the implementation and regulation of emerging technologies are capturing global attention. Enthusiasm and concerns with the impacts of IoT technologies as they are applied to manage a series of urban contexts - traffic routes, disaster response, public security, etc., - follow from such discussion, particularly as this process involves the collection and processing of terabytes of city and citizen data. Because it calls upon a set of Internet-enabled technologies, such as big data analytics and artificial intelligence algorithms, and participate in the network of sensors (namely IoT), facial recognition software is a telling aspect of debates about how contemporary Internet governance works (or should work). Close to reproducing the logic signaled by the French president Emmanuel Macron's speech during the last IGF, in 2018, the challenges and risks presented by such technologies have, on the one hand, prompted a strong response by some US states, which have been considering limiting -- and even banning -- its use. On the other hand, its implementation by the chinese government, as part of the country's massive social scoring system, has fed the worst nightmares of human rights activists while also been appealing to law enforcement authorities from developed and developing countries alike, at different degrees. Encouraged by this burgeoning market, startups and big tech companies have ramped up the supply of these softwares to law enforcement, national security authorities, and private actors alike. Some have even called for a set of principles to guide the implementation of this technology as means of addressing the risks to privacy and democratic freedoms -- which includes, but is not restricted to issues concerning bias and discrimination -- and enabling growth. Very often, however, debates on the challenges, risks and opportunities are still concentrated within a context that privileges experiences in the developed world. This workshop contends that there are specific dimensions of inequality, market dynamics and configurations of insecurity in Global South that impact the design, development, and deployment of this technology within this context. However, there is something to be said about how situated experiences might help to shape international guidelines and model regulatory frameworks that could be applied in the North (and not simply the other way around). This workshop seeks to expand the horizons of facial recognition debates within Internet governance by bringing cases from the South to the forefront of the international debate about regulation. This would allow participants and speakers to explore the social and economic inequalities deriving from this implementation while also providing a more holistic view of where it is being implemented, which data practices inform this process and how such implementation might contribute to thinking of regulatory frameworks that are, at the same time, compatible with international standards and best practices, while also suitable to the specific contexts which they are employed.


Round Table - U-shape - 90 Min

Description: The workshop will be organised in a way where panelists will be confronted with questions about (i) the implementation of facial recognition technologies in the Global South; (ii) the state of art of national regulatory frameworks; (iii) what we should consider as proportionate use of facial recognition technologies; (iv) how do Global South countries contribute to shaping this debate, both as positively developing/informing regulatory frameworks for responsible use and/or complicating the contexts of application of facial recognition technologies. More specifically, speakers will be asked to pay attention to how facial recognition is implemented in Global South contexts, including which actors, processes and technological assemblages participate in the process, as well as to how this relates to the popularization of the technology in the Global North. Though the workshop embraces ambitious goals, through dynamic moderation it will direct the debate through a provoking script of questions, challenging panelists to objectively address longstanding questions of contrast and similarities between global/local implementation and regulation of emerging tech such as facial recognition. The roundtable format will allow participants and attendees to engage in the debate of identifying and mapping the areas where such technologies are being currently implemented, such as public security, education, border control and so forth in the effort to situate how such applications might affect the way data policies are designed in and from the South.

Expected Outcomes: Workshop organizers' expect that speakers and participants propose ideas and policy initiatives to foster the responsible use of facial recognition technologies that take into account the nuances of situated contexts (e.g., distinct articulations between security policies and the use of these technologies), shed light onto new cases and present relevant policy questions as to the use of these technologies in developing economies. In this regard, there is a strong potential for the panel to provide a perspective of how social, political and economic realities result in different configurations of inequalities of access and implementation of facial recognition. Speakers will be also asked to pay attention to the political economy of facial recognition, that is, which economic actors are invested in the agenda, how chains of production and development are established, which relations these actors sustain with state authorities and what it means for the implementation of facial recognition technologies and its respective regulatory frameworks.

Onsite Moderator: 

Louise Marie Hurel, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Online Moderator: 

Luisa Cruz Lobato, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Louise Marie Hurel, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Discussion Facilitation: 

In order to reach the proposed goals of this workshop, speakers will be called to walk through these three building blocks (established as a progression):

Unchartered territory? >> participants will be asked to provide a diagnosis of how facial recognition technologies are being implemented rooted in nationally-situated cases. The objective of this part is to provide a narrative account of experiences beyond the general or international debates on facial recognition;
"Facing" the Challenges >> when speakers will assess the main risks and challenges of facial recognition technologies in the contexts of its implementation;
No rules of the road? >> when it will be asked that speakers and participants in the public think of and propose mechanisms through which the nuances provided by the experiences of Global South countries could potentially (or effectively do already) contribute to establishing internationally recognized guidelines and regulation pertaining to facial recognition technologies.
The 90 minutes of the session will be harnessed as follows:
50 minutes in which invited speakers will be asked to make their cases while also exploring the above proposed discussions and thematic clusters;
40 minutes in which speakers and attendees will be asked to provide inputs about how can Global South countries contribute to positively shape regulatory frameworks regarding facial recognition technologies. This occasion will also allow to participants in the panel to pose specific questions pertaining to the expositions made by speakers and propose discussing potential topics/questions that workshop organizers' and speakers might have left unaddressed. Attendees may be encouraged to engage with the discussion through open questions regarding the effectiveness of facial recognition technologies in Global South countries and asked to share personal/group experiences involving the use/deployment of these technologies.

Online Participation: 

To promote it in Igarapé Institute's social media platforms accounts together with the teaser of the session. We will also work with partner organizations to promote this information in a clear and concise way. In doing so, we expect to have online participants also engaging in answering the questions we pose to the speakers and the audience.


GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions