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Stefania Milan

Stefania Milan

NIAS Individual Fellow

Project title

Face Off! Resistance to Facial Recognition Technology in Public Spaces

Research question

How do citizens resist the implementation of facial recognition technology in society?

Project description

Automated facial recognition technology is creeping into public spaces. It is implemented in airports to speed up boarding, in everyday policing to automatically identify lawbreakers, in public schools to facilitate internal payments and track student emotions. Despite the galvanizing narratives associated with this form of biometrics, however, critical voices are on the rise. Facial recognition technology “might be the world’s most divisive technology,” argued The New York Times. It is “arsenic in the water supply of democracy,” denounced the UK civil liberties group Liberty. “Is facial recognition too biased to be let loose?,” asked Nature. To be sure, a number of shortcomings have been associated with this intrusive technology: the scarce accuracy rate, the poor transparency of the software and the politics surrounding its adoption, the lack of democratic oversight, and the potential overreach of this intrusive form of data collection. Recently, various civil rights organizations have launched campaigns articulating a public critique of facial recognition technology. For example, Reclaim Your Face wants to ban facial recognition technology from public space across the European Union, because the technology is “secretive. Unlawful. Inhumane.” However, citizens, including social movements, are mostly out of touch with this debate.

Combining critical data studies, political sociology, and science and technology studies, this project asks how citizens counter the threats of facial recognition technology through discursive interventions. It investigates how people make sense of and react to it, focusing on public discourse and policymaking in Amsterdam and at the European Union (EU) level. Data gathering methods include interviewing and focus groups, desk research, and process tracing. In addition, the project  involves citizens as “skilled learners” (Milan & Milan, 2016), through the experimental method of “data walking” where participants reflect on how technology influences civic space.

Selected publications

  • Kazansky, B. & S. Milan. (2021). “Bodies Not Templates”. Contesting Mainstream Algorithmic Imaginaries, New Media & Society, 23(2), pp. 363-381, DOI: 10.1177/1461444820929316.
  • Milan, S. (2020). Techno-solutionism and the standard human in the making of the COVID-19 pandemic, Big Data & Society, July, DOI: 10.1177/2053951720966781.
  • Beraldo, D., & S. Milan. (2019). From data politics to the contentious politics of data, Big Data & Society, July-December, 1-19, DOI: 10.1177/2053951719885967.
  • Milan, S. (2018). Political agency, digital traces and bottom-up data practices, International Journal of Communication, 12, 507–527.
  • Milan, S. & L. van der Velden (2016). The alternative epistemologies of data activism, Digital Media & Society, 2(2), pp. 57–74, DOI: 10.14361/dcs-2016-0205.

More about myself

You can find more about me at https://stefaniamilan.net