Podcast – Facial Recognition and Policing Protesters

Rights Back At You | Episode 1

Facial Recognition and Policing Protesters

Meet Derrick Ingram. After he shared a photo of himself from a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest, the New York Police Department surrounded his apartment and his friends jumped into action. If police can use facial recognition and surveillance technology to target activists like Derrick, will protesters think twice about speaking out, even in Canada?

I quickly realized that they were trying to make an example of me, and I was determined in that moment to make an example of them.

– Derrick Ingram
Derrick Ingram
Derrick Ingram. Photo by © Ira L. Black

What happens when technology brings the police to your door?

“I think it was a very strategic ploy to try to harm me, intimidate me and send a message not only to me, but to my community.” – Derrick Ingram 

In our first episode, Derrick “D-Wreck” Ingram leads us through the harrowing experience of being trapped in his apartment, surrounded by the New York Police Department. In the summer of 2020, he shared a photo from a Black Lives Matter protest and, shortly afterwards, it seemed the police ran it through facial recognition software to track him down.

If police can track down protesters like Derrick, will we think twice about speaking out?

We explore how state surveillance of protesters threatens fundamental human rights and our very ability to protest for social change. We delve into how this plays out in Canada, speaking to journalist Bryan Carney, lawyer and researcher Yolanda Song, and researcher Jon Penney.

Surveillance is not safety.

Ban the scan!

End the use of facial recognition technology– it is intrusive, oppressive & racist. Sign the petition and call for a ban now. 

Read full episode transcript

Ep.1-Facial Recognition and Policing Protesters

Daniella: [00:00:00] Quick content note: This episode briefly mentions death by police.

Derrick: [00:00:07] One of the scariest parts for me that I’ll never forget was the battering ram. Outside of my door, I could hear them count. One, two, three. Boom! One, two, three, boom!

Daniella: [00:00:26] Welcome to Rights Back at You, A human rights podcast from Amnesty International Canada. I’m Daniella Barreto. What you just heard is Derrick Ingram describing the New York Police Department at his door after they tracked him down using facial recognition. 

In this series, you’re going to meet Black folks whose stories show the power of protest, the strength of community and ways to reimagine the systems we take for granted. In short, people who want a better world now talking about racism is uncomfortable for many people, and naming white supremacy is even harder. We’re often told it’s not polite to talk about race, that we shouldn’t see color, that everyone’s the same on the inside. And many people still think that white supremacy is only the KKK or calling people racial slurs. But when black people in Toronto are 20 times more likely to be shot dead by the police than white people. When Indigenous women make up almost 50% of all incarcerated women in Canada and Black people are overrepresented in the prison system. When the Vancouver Police Department’s own statistics show that they street check Black and indigenous people at disproportionate rates, we have no choice but to talk about racism and white supremacy in these lands. 

Amnesty Canada hasn’t done much work on anti-black racism before or hired many black people in its history, or even paid much attention to the voices of black people in this country. Nonprofits with a history of white savior ism have rightly been challenged about who they prioritize and why. So this podcast is the start of doing things differently. Centering and platforming those working against white supremacy and towards a better future for all of us, where human rights really are for everyone.

Derrick: [00:02:18] I am Dwrek Co-founder of Warriors in the Garden, we’re a collective of activists here in New York City.

Daniella: [00:02:28] Derrick, also known as Dwreck, is fun to talk to. We had to chat over the internet because omicron had us sealed in our apartments, his in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York mine and East Vancouver, BC. His laugh is disarming, even online, and he really likes his poutine.

Derrick: [00:02:47] I love Montreal. There is this amazing 24 hour poutine place called Le Banquise. I think I love it there. Had a few drunken nights there stumbling home from the club. It’s my favorite.

Daniella: [00:03:03] Derrick and I are alike in some ways besides enjoying Montreal and poutine. He’s a young Black person who wants to do something about the pain we feel when Black people keep turning up dead because of the police. It’s a tugging at your bones to get out and scream about it until it stops hurting. Or the killing stops happening. It doesn’t. After George Floyd’s murder by police in 2020, Derrick showed up in the streets with the groundswell of protests against police violence. He felt jaded, but still kept showing up at the protests.

Derrick: [00:03:44] I’ve done this before. I don’t want to do this anymore. I was burnt out. I’ve lost so many people. Nothing’s going to change. That was very much my mentality. But something happened to me seeing like all these 19 year olds so angry, so hurt. I was like, I don’t know the level of hubris that I probably had. I was like, I need to be in front of like 10,000 people. And something is telling me I need to be in front. Actually, it’s ridiculous to even repeat, but like, that’s how I felt at the time. And then there were 15 other people that felt the same way. And yeah, we ended up just becoming kind of like a little family.

Daniella: [00:04:23] That family became Warriors in the Garden, a group of young people dedicated to protesting and organizing against systemic racism in policing. Derrick’s story is about the confluence of social media, facial recognition and police violence right at his doorstep. We’re going to spend some time with Derek. And even though the story takes place in New York, this happens in many parts of the world. Later on, we’ll show you how this impacts human rights in Canada. Derek did a mundane thing and posted a photo on the Internet. It was soon to become one of the most significant photos of his life.

Derrick: [00:05:05] There was somebody dressed up as an officer with a pig mask that apparently was one of the pictures that the NYPD used in their surveillance software to, like, run me through their database to try to find me.

Daniella: [00:05:19] The photo was taken for Donald Trump’s birthday. When is that?

Derrick: [00:05:25] I think it’s in June. He’s a Gemini. I know. Good Lord. Look, I didn’t get into astrology until the pandemic, but, yeah, it says a lot.

Daniella: [00:05:36] Derek and his friends threw a giant party. Only they weren’t celebrating Donald Trump’s birthday. Quite the opposite.

Derrick: [00:05:44] Literally called it the f*ck Donald Trump Party. We had piñatas. There were pictures of like Donald Trump as a pig. We had people show up cosplaying Donald Trump or Melania.

Daniella: [00:05:56] There was even someone dressed in a police officer costume with a pig mask on.

Derrick: [00:06:01] There is a fat cop and he just walks around at our protest with a cop uniform on a pig’s mask, and he eats donuts and hands out doughnuts. I mean, I guess it’s his form of just like art. I don’t know. It’s hilarious. And I took a picture with him and I posted it on my Instagram tagged like the NYPD or something. And like, I don’t know if you know that Nicki Minaj lyrics like Itty Bitty Piggy and like, put the Nicki Minaj lyrics underneath the photo. It was hilarious.

Daniella: [00:06:29] Derek says they organized about 50 protests in the summer of 2020. Protesting different iterations of police violence gets heavy and exhausting. We have to find pockets of joy and celebration every now and then. After one protest, they decided to hit the town.

Derrick: [00:06:48] There’s this really like, gritty, cheap bar on the Lower East Side called Pianos that sells like $4 margaritas. And they over pour.

Daniella: [00:06:58] He came home after a few and tried to make himself a steak.

Derrick: [00:07:02] And I was attempting to cook and it just wasn’t happening for me. And I just fell asleep, fully clothed with it’s almost like my armor. I always wear, like, skinny jeans, combat boots, leather cap. It felt like armour that I was wearing that whole summer and I fell asleep in that outfit.

Daniella: [00:07:22] It felt like armor. The night before the standoff that would change his life.

Derrick: [00:07:32] I woke up at 7:00 am 7:15 to a knock on the door. They asked my name. I gave my name. They asked me to confirm the address. I confirm the address. And I didn’t know exactly who it was. I assumed it was a delivery driver because they were kind of plain clothed. And I was like, Oh, you know, Grandma sent me a package or something. And no they told me they had a warrant for my arrest.

Daniella: [00:07:57] But what he didn’t know is that they never had a warrant. Derrick slams the door, locks it, deadbolts it, and asks them to slide the warrant under the door. They didn’t produce one.

Derrick: [00:08:11] That night before. I was just telling other people in my group, I feel like I’m being watched. I feel like I’m being watched. I swear to you, I’ve seen this officer on my street and in my building, like at least three times.

Daniella: [00:08:27] He thought he was just being paranoid.

Derrick: [00:08:29] I didn’t know why I was being surrounded by cops. I’m doing everything right. I’m teaching people how not to be monitored. There’s no way. Like, there’s no way they’re really, like, monitoring the nonviolent group. There’s no way. There’s no way.

Daniella: [00:08:42] His mind was searching for any and all encounters that could have led to this.

Derrick: [00:08:46] I was just like, Holy shit. Is this about Bayside?

Daniella: [00:08:50] Bayside was the time he said. Cops stood by and didn’t intervene when counter-protesters got violent.

Derrick: [00:08:56] There was an Asian officer that I approached and told him about what was going on, and he had this stone cold look on his face. Tears just came coming down, but he wouldn’t do anything. He wouldn’t intervene as my friends were being attacked by blatant white supremacists. Are they targeting me because of this?

Daniella: [00:09:15] He made a report to the police after the scene at the protest and thought maybe they’d shown up in retaliation for speaking out. But there was another incident in June at the anti Donald Trump party. Derek was using a megaphone as police officers were moving in on the crowd.

Derrick: [00:09:32] During that protest, that was one of the leaders. I was screaming and yelling and I was frightened for the people around me. And I was trying to direct people over our megaphone and over our loudspeakers while we were being surrounded by the police. The officer that day alleges that it harmed our hearing.

Daniella: [00:09:53] Derek didn’t know it, but that was exactly why they were at his door. Here’s what Patricia Miller from the city’s Federal Litigation Division had to say about it in September 2022. Plaintiff assaulted an officer by shoving a megaphone next to her ear and yelling into it, causing her injury. Although plaintiff holds himself out as a peaceful protests promoter, his actions were anything but peaceful towards this officer. Back inside his apartment, two months removed from the alleged megaphone incident, Derek was planning his next move.

Derrick: [00:10:28] I was ready to escape. I was like, Passport, go bag, pepper spray. I had a first aid kit. I had a train ticket, literally. I’m not kidding you. From Penn Station, which is ten blocks from my house to Montreal. Not kidding.

Daniella: [00:10:46] He had a train ticket just in case anything like this happened after he’d been organizing protests all summer.

Derrick: [00:10:52] Yeah, I was like climbing the fire escape, jumping those two rooves. I was ready to go.

Daniella: [00:10:58] He even had a message he was going to text his family and friends saved in the notes folder of his phone. It was something to the effect of:

Derrick: [00:11:05] I’ve been protesting. Da da da da da da. I’m not depressed. I’m not suicidal. Pretty much saying if I went missing, the police did it. I’m on Instagram live like, Guys, it’s going down. The cops are like outside of my apartment. I’m about to escape. I was literally climbing down my fire escape on Instagram live, telling everybody what was happening. And like, people had to convince me to go back in my apartment.

Daniella: [00:11:32] Derek says he peeked through the peephole, and at that time there were only about three police officers in the hallway. There were soon to be many more. He was already prepared to record his interactions with police. Sometimes that’s the last word people get.

Derrick: [00:11:50] I kind of set up shop in my apartment. It’s a very small one bedroom apartment. I had two laptops going, an iPad, a cell phone all set up strategically in my apartment, like recording everything.

Daniella: [00:12:04] From there, things escalated quickly.

Derrick: [00:12:08] My people was covered with duct tape, so I couldn’t see out of my peephole. I closed all my blinds, but there’s like a sliver of light. And I look to close it and I saw an eye and it was an officer like peeking in my apartment freaked me out. But as soon as that happened, my lights start flickering. The electricity is going in and out, which means my Internet is going in and out. So I take my cell phone to my laptop off of the wi fi, and they’re still able to be used. And then shortly thereafter, I’m making phone calls. I’m getting calls from lawyers.

Daniella: [00:12:45] He said there were a few lawyers in touch with him, some he knew from the community, and some even showed up on the scene. People kept calling him: advocates, community members.

Derrick: [00:12:56] I’m trying to call people back. I’m trying to call my parents. And then at one point, all of my outgoing calls are being intercepted. Like they’re literally going straight to the police department. The police department’s texting me. All of my outgoing calls are going straight to the police department and then I kid you not. My phone blows up into smoke. I’d never seen anything like it. Just poof, smoke screen goes black, My phone just stops working. So electricity going in and out. There’s dogs at my door scratching my door. There’s drones in my freaking window. There’s helicopters overhead, and then my device just stops operating and smoke comes out of it. I was overwhelmed. I was being bombarded by… literally this went viral. So like at one point, I think like 10,000 people are looking at this live. People I haven’t talked to from high school like calling me and texting me, are you okay? Obviously not. Like it’s like I haven’t talked to you in seven years. I remember specifically seeing four or five officers with electrical cords running across my neighbor’s roofs. I’m like, What are they doing with that? There were officers with tactical gear. Officers with drones. Officers with, you know, in the movies where you see like the red light coming through and somebody’s about to get shot? That came through my window. It really felt like in retrospect, they were using every toy at their disposal and having fun. That’s what it felt like, because the crime they alleged didn’t warrant two helicopters, canines, terrorist squad sharpshooters, phone taps, like it just didn’t warrant any of that. And that’s when I quickly realized that they were trying to make an example of me. And I was determined in that moment to make an example of them.

Daniella: [00:15:02] Derrick told me more and more officers started showing up as the day progressed.

Derrick: [00:15:06] Around 10:30 more officers show up. There’s like, this garden in the back of my apartment. It’s like an alleyway. I remember specifically there being multiple Black officers, attempting to kind of like, build some rapport with me. It was a weird tactic. They climbed my fire escape. We’re trying to negotiate with me. I was refusing to let them in my apartment and refusing to leave. At certain points mid-way through this, they started bringing up things about family and friends and members of Warriors in the Garden that were personal and that would only be known from monitoring their social media. Which was kind of scary. They started quoting things from my social media, which inherently let me know that they had been looking for me and monitoring me for a while. One of the scariest parts for me that I’ll never forget was the battering ram. Outside of my door, I could hear them count. One, two, three. Boom! One, two, three, boom. As they do this in between, like hits on my door they’re talking about like death of my grandma that I had posted, they’re bringing up my sister. I don’t talk to her anymore because she’s a cop. And they brought her up.

Daniella: [00:16:40] Derek said he’d never talked about this before our conversation. The fact that someone so close to him goes to work every day at an institution he’s fighting against.

Derrick: [00:16:54] So there was, like, this weird mental manipulation that started happening midway through. As all this chaos was kind of going on around me. And I realized that like, oh, they’re literally trying to make an example of me. This isn’t about the legality of anything I’ve done. They’re trying to harm me.

Daniella: [00:17:16] In this moment of clarity, Derrick’s resolve hardened.

Derrick: [00:17:21] I could see myself on CNN. It was the weirdest thing. And I could see these drones floating in my windows. So I then put my mattress against the window and I hid under my bed. Then I saw a red laser come through my window. And I was convinced that, like, either they were going to kill me or plant something on me. This is what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to either physically harm me or they’re going to plant something on me. I’m not going to let them in my apartment. A lot of this stuff I haven’t like repeated in a while. It’s a lot. I called my dad. My dad was telling me to call the police, request a sergeant, make this a bigger deal with the cops. And I was like, Dad, I had to show him, like, dad. No. The cops are the ones doing this. These are the people that are trying to harm me. And I don’t think he got that. I was thinking about past friends I had lost in Ferguson, some at the hands of police, and just a lot of those thoughts were running through my head about like possibly dying.

Derrick: [00:18:38] I kind of felt at peace in a way. Kind of like this is the way to go out. You know, like if I’m going out, this is the way I want it to go down, and this is how I would want to be remembered. And I kind of felt a stillness about that. But I had remembered a friend, Thaddeus, that I had grown up with. Who I had protested with. I become radicalized with, I really have fond memories of and cared about a lot. Losing him in a very similar way where he was barricaded and trapped by police and he was going through a mental health crisis. He stormed out of his apartment after a standoff and he ended up being riddled with bullets. His mom had the same mentality that my parents had is like, the police can help. And I don’t think they realize that that’s exactly what we were fighting is like the institution of policing in itself and how harmful it is.

Daniella: [00:19:52] So of course, Derek was thinking these could be his last breathing moments, seemingly all because he’d been identified by facial recognition. News images from the standoff showed the Instagram photo he described earlier printed out underneath the title “Informational Lead Report” from the New York Police Department’s Facial Identification Section. We’ll come back to Derek in a bit. I’m going to take you on a detour to understand a little more about facial recognition. Facial recognition is a biometric tool that’s meant to recognize faces. It’s software that uses photos to identify a face. It maps your face, measuring things like the shape of your nose or the distance between your eyes, and then compares the results to another image for verification. Kind of like how you might unlock your phone or it compares it to many images in a database, like comparing a photo of a person from a protest to a database of driver’s license photos connected to an address. There’s been a lot of research into how the results are often not very accurate. A study done by the federal government in the United States showed that African American and Asian faces were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white faces.

Daniella: [00:21:17] This isn’t new information. One study by a trio of Black women showed the facial recognition systems they tested performed the worst when recognizing Black faces and especially Black women’s faces. They suggest that this is because the image is used to train the systems are predominantly white faces. You might think the easy solution is to just include more diversity in the training systems to make them work better. But there’s a bigger question here. Do we want it to work well for policing black people? For policing anyone? And fundamentally, do we want it to exist at all? After all, there was the Detroit case in 2020 where a black man named Robert Williams was arrested based on a facial recognition identification, but he didn’t do anything wrong. Is facial recognition just fancy racial profiling? You might assume this is the kind of stuff that only happens in the United States. But you’d be wrong. Project Wide Awake is a police surveillance program by the RCMP, Canada’s national police force.

Bryan: [00:22:31] Even though I have a lot of documents on it, a lot of them are redacted and we can’t look at their version of the software. My name is Brian Carney and I report on privacy and technology for The Tyee.

Daniella: [00:22:41] That’s a British Columbia news outlet. So much of this stuff is hidden, and unless you know what you’re asking for, police departments won’t just volunteer this information. Brian says to get something useful back in a timely way is, well.

Bryan: [00:22:57] Somewhere between difficult and impossible.

Daniella: [00:22:59] He was digging through a previous Freedom of Information document or FOI document and found reference to Stingrays, the devices that probably interfered with Derek’s phone when he was under siege in his apartment. Stingrays or IMSI catchers have been used by police in Canada too. Essentially they trick phones into thinking they’re a cell tower. They can then intercept messages and calls, which is really useful if you’re trying to monitor protesters in their communications. Brian says in the documents he saw, the privacy commissioner wrote to the RCMP requesting they disclose anything else that could be seen as surveillance by the public. Only then did the RCMP disclose some of the activities of Project Wide Awake after fighting to get more information for a couple of years. Brian unearthed extensive documentation of the RCMP monitoring civilians on social media In screenshots of the program’s interface, he saw options for selecting different characteristics

Bryan: [00:23:58] You know, buttons for biometrics, both in sound and facial recognition and image recognition and all this stuff. So there was clearly some other components that were tied in closely with it. And there may be programs that we just don’t know about.

Daniella: [00:24:10] A lot of times the public only finds out about surveillance tools after they’ve been used on us. The RCMP told Brian they weren’t using Clearview AI, a powerful facial recognition program that scraped billions of images from the Internet without user consent. It turns out the RCMP had actually used it as had multiple municipal and provincial police forces across the country. Even though Clearview AI had to stop operating in Canada, there are many other programs and companies that do similar things. Just like in multiple cities across the United States. The police were monitoring Black Lives Matter organizers in Canada. I was one of them. Thanks to Brian Carney’s reporting, there’s evidence that the RCMP in B.C. purchased social media monitoring software in 2017, during the same time period of a large Black Lives Matter protest we organized in Vancouver.

Yolanda: [00:25:04] I would not be surprised at all if that was a reason for them obtaining the program, because it’s no secret that the police think that these are great tools for monitoring protest activity.

Daniella: [00:25:15] That’s Yolanda Song, lawyer and co-author of one of the few reports about algorithmic policing in Canada. It’s called to “Surveil and Predict” a play on, to serve and protect. From the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. You can find a link to it in the show notes. They had a look at exactly what was going on in Canada, at least what they could find out about. Police departments from Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon and many other cities were using, or had the technology to use, algorithmic tools for surveillance things like facial recognition, social media surveillance and automated license plate readers.

Yolanda: [00:25:55] One of the major impacts on human rights is that knowing that your communications and your locations are being monitored by police presents a huge chilling effect or potentially presents a huge chilling effect on your participation in public protests and demonstration and on your freedom of expression, your freedom of assembly.

Daniella: [00:26:19] I’m not doing frontline organizing work anymore pretty much for this exact reason. The chilling effect.

Bryan: [00:26:26] Usually when people talk about or think about chilling effect, the first thing they think about is a kind of self censorship, right?

Daniella: [00:26:32] This is Jon Penney, a chilling effect, researcher and professor at York University. I reached him over a tenuous Internet connection while he was in Turkey. He says the thought process for the chilling effect on someone goes a bit like this:

Jon: [00:26:46] I don’t say certain things or I don’t engage in certain political activism that I would have, but for being aware that I’m under surveillance or but for the awareness of some vague, overreaching law that’s attempting to make these kinds of protests and freedom of expression more difficult.

Daniella: [00:27:05] Some RCMP documents that another journalist found show a Black Lives Matter Vancouver event categorized as “serious crime: unfolding event”. It was a vigil outside the art gallery for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Two other black people in the United States who’d been killed by police just one day apart in 2016. There are some pretty racist foundations to how and why it was categorized as a serious crime and why Black Lives Matter events are under so much scrutiny to begin with. We’ll get to that in a second. But first, Brian found out something super interesting in his FOI digging. The RCMP’s monitoring program is named after technology in Marvel’s X-Men.

Daniella: [00:27:51] Their purpose?

Bryan: [00:27:53]  To hunt down mutants.

Daniella: [00:27:56] This is kind of nerdy at first glance. Maybe a bit of dark humor for the boys in blue. But if you read a little deeper and blow the dust off that comic book, it gets a whole lot creepier. In further documents he received.

Bryan: [00:28:11] There was a whole bunch of other programs that had X-Men names, so it was pretty obvious that that’s exactly where they got the inspiration.

Daniella: [00:28:20] They were called things like Cerebro and Sentinel. Basically in the comics project, Wide Awake is a team that tracks down X-Men the Mutants and tries to exterminate them. If we look back into how Canada came to exist. That’s pretty much how colonizers and therefore the RCMP treated indigenous peoples as mutants to exterminate. And it’s how colonizing forces in general engaged with indigenous populations globally as pests, something to be watched, contain, controlled and stamped out. This mindset forms the foundation of Canada who belongs, who doesn’t. All swept under a multicultural rug. And it works! On the global stage, Canada’s often seen as a champion of human rights, a bunch of polite, hockey-loving people who have to deal with a moose every now and then. In reality, Canada is involved in various human rights violations and helps to uphold white supremacy here and around the world. The effects of colonization for Indigenous Peoples in Canada are far reaching and ongoing. A disproportionate number of indigenous people are street checked and incarcerated. Black people experience disproportionate levels of policing and incarceration too. So Canada’s great. Unless you’re part of a group deemed to be the mutants. For hundreds of years, Black people have been subject to stereotypes of being criminals, dangerous, violent, even superhuman. These deep-seated ideas direct the way individual officers act. So how much force they use, how quickly a gun gets drawn in fear or hatred or both. We often hear that it’s just “one bad apple”, but the phrase actually is “one bad apple spoils the bunch”. It’s not about individual actions in particular or what any one police officer believes, but about who applies and gets selected to be a police officer. What their motivations are. How the force instructs officers to respond to certain incidents. And how the media reports on crime. What crimes even get paid attention to? Not being paid for work you did is also theft, but that’s rarely considered a crime, and neither are many other crimes committed behind closed doors. In this light, these cute X-Men names are a glimpse into organizational culture. Perhaps it says the quiet part out loud.

Yolanda: [00:31:05] You can’t, in the context of our Canadian criminal justice system, say, well, I didn’t think about the impact on Black and Indigenous individuals. It’s not acceptable and and it’s not responsible.

Daniella: [00:31:16] Surveillance of communities claiming their rights is part of our history. We know that pushing back against the status quo means we will be monitored and even infiltrated. It happens to Indigenous land defenders in Canada and Latin America. It happens to climate change activists globally, Black Lives Matter groups. It played a large role suppressing the civil rights movement and beginning the FBI counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO. When police talk to reporters, Yolanda says, it’s often pretty clear they intend to use these technologies on social movements and policing protests.

Yolanda: [00:31:53] In their communications with reporters. They’re quite clear that they intend to use this on social movements and protesters and demonstrations because of what they call a security risk in those areas. But the term “security risk” is so broad. The RCMP also has a history of applying that term to Indigenous protesters or people who are just asserting their claims over land would be ridiculously naive to think that those tools wouldn’t be used against people who are defending their lands or other forms of protest led by Indigenous individuals.

Jon: [00:32:30] If certain communities are already discriminated against under law or due to being overpoliced and they’re then disproportionately impacted due to surveillance because of chilling effects, because of the history that these communities face, it’s more difficult for them to engage in activism, to engage in speech, to do the kinds of activities that will raise up their issues. So you can immediately see how chilling effects is also a social justice issue. People often say privacy is about power. I think chilling effects is about control. Now, of course, there may be some protesters that are likely aware they’re being tracked and that will just embolden them to be more brave. But at the same time, the research is quite clear that this kind of surveillance, this kind of tracking can have a real dampening effect on activism.

Daniella: [00:33:27] Back in Derrick’s New York apartment, the siege was still going on. It was around 7:00 AM when the police arrived and it was closer to noon or 1 p.m. by now. His friends from Warriors in the Garden had jumped into action and gathered a crowd for an impromptu protest outside his apartment. They were used to organizing on short notice.

Derrick: [00:33:47] I swear to you, I was doing my sign off on IG. I say, “Guys, I think this is it. I think I have to open the door. I think I need to surrender. I’m not sure 100% of what I did. They’re saying that I harmed an officer. I think this is the end.” And I’m like, my eyes are welling up. It’s scary. And I’m scared. But then I hear these cheers outside, and these screams. I hear my name being chanted. And then, you know, on Instagram, when you get like, the hearts, like floating? I see all of these hearts floating, but I have no idea why, then I see messages. And I remember specifically one of my friends, Ken, was like, “Do not open the door. They’re leaving”. I could hear outside of my window the voices of like very specific friends screaming my name, screaming, “Where is the warrant?” I could hear tambourines and bullhorns and like fans. And this was like with the helicopters, I could still hear my friends, like, telling me that everything was going to be okay. It sounds weird, but I felt like I couldn’t see them but because I could hear them that I was going to be okay. I assume, I guess the cops left because I didn’t hear anything for like 5 minutes. And I’m just sitting there in the still in the quiet, and then I hear a knock at the door, and it’s three members from my group that enter my apartment. I was in shock. I was mute at that point. I was like, I’m fine. Like, I didn’t like, Are you fine? I don’t know how to. How do you respond to “are you okay” after something like that? So I didn’t even really know what to do.

Daniella: [00:35:31] Derek says other members of Warriors in the Garden came upstairs, along with people from different Black Lives Matter chapters, to discuss strategy.

Derrick: [00:35:39] They all put their phones in like my microwave and we all turned off all of our devices. They swept my apartment to see if it was bugged. It was the whole thing. And there’s another member of our group that has like a similar stature to me. There was three of us. They covered us in bedsheets. Put us in three separate cars. And we just left. And I remember driving for like 30 minutes under a bed sheet. I don’t even know what the word is. It was like, What’s the word for? Like when something’s supposed to be dramatic, but it’s like not. It was anticlimactic as f*ck. It’s like, like they literally had sharpshooters, they had helicopters, they had a battering ram, they had canines, they had the terrorist squad. My phone blew up. My electricity was flickering in and out. They climbed my fire escape and then like a couple hundred protesters show up and they just leave out of nowhere? It was so weird. Yeah, I felt held by community and I felt like people were watching out for me when I wasn’t capable.

Daniella: [00:36:58] Derek is doing okay these days. While the ordeal is over, he’s still dealing with the impact years later. But he’s sticking it out in Hell’s Kitchen.

Derrick: [00:37:12] But I think it affected my mental health and I think I became burnt out. I would not have deep sleep at all and I hated to go to sleep because I knew I would have nightmares. And then if I would have a deep sleep, it was always terror. It was always trauma. It kind of changed me emotionally. I think it calmed me in a way too, because I was a lot more reactionary in terms of how I dealt with my organizing and policing, and I think it made me a lot more calm and strategic. It’s left some pain that I’ll always be there. And my life is completely changed because of this. And some really cool ways. And some sh*tty ways too. I don’t know if you know a lot about New York City, but I just got in my first apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s like super queer and I’m like, close to, like, all these clubs and bars and then, like, COVID happened and then George Floyd happened. But yeah, I don’t want to necessarily run away from a neighborhood and a place and an apartment that I specifically chose and curated just because the police chose to terrorize me.

Daniella: [00:38:15] Derrick’s charges were reduced to a misdemeanor and eventually dismissed. He filed a lawsuit against the NYPD in 2021 for putting him through this experience unwarranted. We emailed the NYPD to ask for comment. Their unnamed spokesperson replied, “Since Mr. Ingram’s criminal case is over, the NYPD is prohibited from challenging Mr. Ingram’s claims outside of the courtroom. Mr. Ingram, however, does not face these same legal constraints and is thus able to continue sharing a one-sided story.”

New York City is covered in surveillance cameras, slowly compiling a perpetual lineup of suspects. This technology is used by police departments and governments around the world. The thing is, it threatens our human rights when it works and also when it doesn’t work.

Derrick: [00:39:06] There are so many CCTV cameras around New York City. The video footage and the things that they presented during my case were from community cameras as well. Based on the things that they’ve said to me and the things that have been documented, they had scrubbed and looked through my social media as well. So I think those are things that we have to talk about when we talk about digital activism and how technology, again, is being weaponized against Black and brown people and these technologies that are being used by police departments that aren’t being transparent about the certain capabilities that they have. And I think it was a very strategic ploy to try to harm me, intimidate me, and like send a message not only to me but to my community. And my community responded back that they wouldn’t be intimidated and that they would support me.

Daniella: [00:40:00] Like Jon Penny explained, feeling like you’re under surveillance ices you out. You don’t want to participate in social activities because you’re worried you might be watched. It helps maintain the status quo, and there are major implications for human rights and freedoms. These are the human rights that facial recognition and other surveillance tools clearly violate privacy, freedom of association, assembly and expression. It also impacts your rights to equality and freedom from discrimination. Despite the parallels people often make, Jon says it’s not like 1984 George Orwell’s dystopian surveillance novel where everyone is watched all the time. In his opinion, that’s a red herring.

Jon: [00:40:41] The challenge here is not that the government is going to be able to watch everyone. They don’t have that capacity. What they can do is to target certain individuals and chill activists, to chill certain communities. That is the power of chilling effects as a tool for control and a tool for power.

Daniella: [00:41:02] Amnesty International has been fighting to ban facial recognition around the world. Some cities in the United States have banned facial recognition, but there’s still a long way to go. It keeps proliferating. Why do we permit facial recognition use when the consequences of getting it wrong can be deadly? Cities are increasingly saturated with cameras exposing people to facial recognition. This means protests and protesters are at more risk of being identified and punished. And when it’s wrong, because it is a lot of the time, people are at risk of being misidentified and having their rights violated, too. The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, where Derrick sits on the Community Advisory Board, estimates the New York Police Department used facial recognition searches more than 22,000 times between 2016 and 2019. While this whole incident has shaped the rest of Derrick’s life, he doesn’t want this to be the only thing people know him for.

Derrick: [00:42:05] I definitely don’t want to be remembered as the guy that had his apartment surrounded by the NYPD. I would love to be remembered as somebody that cared about community, somebody that was actively doing the work and that just really cared about people.
Daniella: [00:42:36] That’s it for Rights Back at You this time. You can learn more about how to take action against mass surveillance and facial recognition at amnesty.ca/rightsbackatyou. If you liked this episode, text a friend and tell them about it. 

This episode was produced by me, Daniela Barreto and Serisha Iyar. Written and hosted by me. Story Editing, Sound Design and Post-production Work by Katie Jensen at Vocal Fry Studios. Theme Music by Produced by Youth Podcast Artwork by Sasha Mbabazi. See you next time. When we talk about surveillance and the war on drugs.


Produced, written, and hosted by Daniella Barreto. Co-produced by Serisha Iyar. Story editing, sound design, and post-production work by Katie Jensen at Vocal Fry Studios. Theme music by Produced by Youth. Artwork by Sasha Mbabazi.

A special thank you to Leon Liberman, Adjua Akinwumi and Serisha Iyar.


Ban the Scan: End the use of facial recognition technology – Amnesty International Canada

Canada: Stop Anti-Black Racism and Over-policing – Amnesty International Canada

Further resources

Ban the Scan – Amnesty International

Protect the Protest – Amnesty International

Surveil and Predict: A report from Citizen Lab: A Human Rights Analysis of Algorithmic Policing in Canada

Surveillance Technology Oversight Project: https://www.stopspying.org/


The struggle for human rights shapes news around the globe. Join Amnesty International, one of Canada’s largest human rights organizations, and untangle the chaos of your newsfeed. Want to hear compelling stories from people who fight back? Learn more about the systems that define our world? Or hang out with people who believe a better world is possible for everyone? Rights Back at You features stories from frontline activists that cut right to the heart of human rights—being human.


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2 | Street Surveillance and The War on Drugs

What does the future of harm reduction look like for communities that are already overpoliced and surveilled? In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, we connect with harm reduction activist Hugh Lampkin who saves lives with naloxone and community building. We investigate how drug criminalization impacts Black people in Canada, and visit the MySafe machine, a palm-scanning smart vending machine for drugs.

3 | Don’t You Be My Neighbour

Rowa Mohamed showed up to support her neighbours at an encampment eviction and was injured by police during the protest. Her experience of violence is not unusual – Black Muslim women are often treated with suspicion, like they don’t belong. What happens when people “fight crime” with home surveillance technology and treat their own neighbours as suspects?

4 | Walking While Black

Gyasi Symonds filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission after being street checked by Halifax Police. He won. Despite his victory, street-level surveillance and carding are still widespread across Canada. A movement to defund the police and invest in the community has erupted from coast to coast. We pass the mic to grassroots groups to hear about where they want funding to go, and what new worlds we can imagine.

5 | Access Denied – tech at the border

Borders have long been sites of colonial enforcement about who can come, who can go, who gets expelled, and how Indigenous Peoples are treated. Canada’s border is no different. When you’re fleeing danger in your home country and entering another, is it fair to have life-altering decisions made by technology— technology that can be unreliable and reinforce bias? 

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