Chase Lang

Public Faces

This was a temporary art exhibit that brought to the spotlight both the drastic increase in the use of facial recognition technology as a way of mapping humans in public areas, and the dichotomy presented in the corporate identity Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) tries to portray of a friendly, welcoming face to tourists compared to the reality of their presence along the Mexico-U.S. border. This corporate identity is presented along side video footage of CBP officers destroying humanitarian aide in the desert- which shows the intention of CBP’s enforcement policies is to stop people from surviving once they have entered the United States, by destroying water and food that could have prevented more than 7,216 deaths between 1998 and 2017. Currently, CBP enforces a policy known as Operation Gatekeeper, which concentrates enforcement in urban areas and intentionally forces migrants to cross in less urban areas, such as the Tucson region. Crossing into the United States in the Tucson corridor means migrants have to navigate 2,000 miles of scorch, rugged terrain-all the while avoiding detection from border patrol. If they are spotted, one tactic CBP uses to murder migrants is chase them by using helicopters. This forces groups of migrants to scatter and hide, which results in families being separated and for those who do not get detained, they are left in the middle of the desert to fend for themselves.

These technologies and tactics are not unique to CBP, as they are the same ones being used in other border regions across the globe. In Palestine, Israeli forces uses biometric data to track people in checkpoints. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) began a campaign of using snipers equipped with this same technology to stop immigration at any cost on the border with Gaza, which has led to the murders of more than 200 unarmed civilians, and wounded more than 18,000 since March 30, 2018. On the Morocco-Spain border in Melilla, police beat anyone who gets caught jumping the series of fences with billy clubs. In the first six months of 2018, the death toll in the Mediterranean had surpassed 230. Despite these horrendous conditions for humans fleeing violence and poverty, we see a complete lack of empathy by those carrying out these murders and enactment of new policies.

Over the past few years, Border Patrol began a plan to erect 52 large towers on sacred tribal land in the Tohono O’odham Nation. These towers will be part of a digital fence the department is creating, which will help aide in the murder and disappearance of many more migrants. This furthers a war-like posture on the U.S. southern border and will force migrants to endure even harsher conditions in the future.

No More Deaths is a Tucson based organization with a mission to end death and suffering in the Mexico–US borderlands through their civil initiative: people of conscience working openly and in community to uphold fundamental human rights.

If you are interested in volunteering and providing humanitarian aide for migrants in the Tucson region, visit

The above artist statement really talks about what this piece was exploring, but it leaves out the process that it took to get there.  I was focused on using a space to explain a topic, and I knew I wanted to talk about our border.  I also wanted to understand more about facial recognition and how it works, so I figured this would be a great opportunity to try and learn some new skills while seeing how I could use the technology to create a statement about what was happening people when this technology is employed.

I used Python (a coding language) to modify some existing code to record the webcam only when faces were detected.  I then created a simple landing page where someone could upload an image and their name to a database.  The database was hosted on AWS, because I wanted people to understand that AWS is in the business of selling the FBI face data, and so my process should mimic that of a real world process being used by these government agencies.  The camera would update in real time when a user would submit their data, and the camera (usually) recognized them within 10 seconds, displaying the same they entered below their face.  All the while this is happening, there is another conversation happening in the sounds and visuals being projected and displayed around the projection of the camera running the facial recognition software.

I learned quite a lot, and I’m now planning on sing what I’ve learned to make more interactive art pieces to explore security apparatuses being used by governments around the world.  I think these constitute and invasion of privacy for individuals, which once eroded will make it extremely difficult to avoid.  There are already private companies using this type of data to “secure” concert venues, airports, and other controlled access venues, and that stands to create a world where we trust more in algorithms and data than we do in other humans, which has never happened before.

You may recreate this piece, including the artists’ statement, without any need for attributing me as the author. In fact, I’d prefer that my name not be on any pieces because these ideas should not be centered around a person, as that stands to distract from the message.

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