The Face of Protest
By Agnar Freyr Stefánsson
When the civic duty to protest calls for you, do you ever stop and think that you might be tracked? Since communities have formed there have alway been resistance and a fight for change, these changes often come at a hefty price in lives. But nowadays the manifestation of change can be seen through the act of protesting. As individuals we cannot do much, but when surrounded by a large group of people sharing the same vision real change can happen. But what if you were picked out of this large group and punished for supporting what you believe in through the human right to protest?
As technology advances government entities and amateurs have managed to make facial recognition accessible, reliable and effective. These technologies have been used in many sectors of the modern environment, it is in our phones, doorbells, computers and security cameras. This technology has also been used in many protests around the world to pick out individual protesters and prosecute them for indecent behaviour. There are also cases where persons have been mis-identified through facial recognition and wrongly prosecuted. Activists have supported the idea to ban all facial recognition to de-escalate the hostile weaponization of this technology of both authorities and protesters alike.
In The Face of Protest, Agnar Freyr Stefánsson questions if the use of this technology will effect who protests, what we protest and how we protest?
 Selinger, Evan, and Albert Fox Cahn. “Did You Protest Recently? Your Face Might Be in a Database | Evan Selinger and Albert Fox Cahn.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, July 17, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/17/protest-black-lives-matter-database
 Cirio, Paolo. “Capture - Paolo CIRIO Artist.” Paolo Cirio. Accessed May 27, 2021. https://paolocirio.net/work/capture/.
 Hill, Kashmir. “Activists Turn Facial Recognition Tools Against the Police.” The New York Times. The New York Times, October 21, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/21/technology/facial-recognition-police.html.
 Davis, Angela Y. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement. Haymarket Books, 2016.
 Land of a Billion Faces (2020) August [In machines We Trust]. Available at https://open.spotify.com/episode/6QRfyho0h1qHqQ2nQU2M0P?si=g-4mLZ6AQUuSTVwQfF1j5A (Accessed: 12 April 2021).
 Who owns your face (2020) August [In machines We Trust]. Available at https://open.spotify.com/episode/3Hwjz2VBPwT6NEWBMXac7L?si=nFRUA_bKQrugTuLYInpbHA
(Accessed: 12 April 2021).
 When the Camera Turns on Police (2020) November [In machines We Trust]. Available at https://open.spotify.com/episode/1MDUL1CDx24nYqxk8hkHSs?si=zjx2otlhT3yBu35OEo5ltg
(Accessed: 12 April 2021).
 Schiller, Devon. “On the Basis of Face: Biometric Art as Critical Practice, Its History and Politics.” INC Longform, June 22, 2020. https://networkcultures.org/longform/2020/06/22/on-the-basis-of-face-biometric-art-as-critical-practice-its-history-and-politics/.
Excerpts from Sources
The artist, Paolo Cirio collected 1000 public images of police in photos taken during protests in France and processed them with Facial Recognition software. Cirio then created an online platform with a database of the resulting 4000 faces of police officers to crowdsource their identification by name.
Mr. Cirio, 41, took the photos down after France’s interior minister threatened legal action but said he hoped to republish them.
In New York City alone, the NYPD used facial recognition more than 8,000 times last year, including in conjunction with its so-called “gang database” of 42,000 New Yorkers, overwhelmingly New Yorkers of color. Police could potentially retaliate against protesters by adding their names to databases and singling them out for unjustified, follow-up monitoring and “selective enforcement of unrelated matters”, like minor traffic offenses.
What can be done? Facial recognition technology should be banned. This agenda needs as much support as can be mustered. Calls to defund the police and stop providing them with facial recognition technology are gaining momentum, which is a good first step. But as Tim Maughan rightly argues: “We must not allow private contractors and technology companies to seep in, fill the void, and repeat – or even exacerbate – the same disastrous mistakes”.
...because facial recognition isn't regulated, unless a company decides to tell us these tools exist or a journalist uncovers something, we won't necessarily what's out the let alone how it's used even when it's used on us
Using images and videos found on https://archive.org/ a digital library home to the largest internet archive anywhere. Agnar was able to collect different protests, riots and demonstrations around the world but also at different time periods. Along side collecting all the imagery he programmed a code that detected faces when presented with an image or video. By doing so he mimicked what the police and protesters do in modern protest to either hide their identity or to reveal someone else's.
The data consists of images from The Suffragettes protest 1890 – 1919, Gay Liberation 1969 – c. 1980, March on Washington 1963, Berlin Wall protest 1989, Hong Kong protests 2019 - 2020, Black Lives Matter protest 2013 - present as of 2021, Storming of the Capital 2021.
Prototypes & Experiments
The code uses cv2 library for Python to process the images and videos it is presented with. It logs all the faces in a array which can then be manipulated, by either drawing a outline of a box around the face, a black square over the face or corp it out and save as a separate images which can then be compiled into a larger dataset for future reference.
However when re-appropriated it can highlight the faces of these people making them a target for arrest or violence
This technology is relatively new especially in the context of a protests. No regulation is on the usages of facial recognition and there are no plans to start that conversations by politicians or governments. And because it's so easy and accessible police and protesters are only playing catch-up when it comes to new innovation surrounding the tool. In the words of Jennifer Strong in the podcast Machines we Trust "...because facial recognition isn't regulated, unless a company decides to tell us these tools exist or a journalist uncovers something, we won't necessarily what's out the let alone how it's used even when it's used on us"
In his piece The Face of Protest Agnar Freyr takes his first steps into protesting the usage of facial recognition in the context of protest. To hide the identity of the protester themselves as they participate in their civil duty and human right to protest. but to also shield those who could become targets by the police or wrongly prosecute or targeted