The Digital Testament

Asya Shine

Civic Futures


Bryan Boyer


Since 2016, the Detroit-based community policing initiative Project GreenLight, a network of nearly 600 surveillance cameras across the city, has threatened the future of public privacy.1 Black Detroiters, the largest racial demographic of the major city, are at an increased risk of privacy erosion as research reveals algorithms in facial recognition technology are often racially biased and discriminatory towards black bodies. 2 It is imperative that Black Detroiters find new forms of agency to protect against the immediate harms of algorithmic bias.

In response to the growing civil-rights concerns around facial recognition software, The Digital Testament repositions a long-standing institution in Black America: the church.The church’s historical and cultural relevance to Black America, and specifically black Detroiters, puts it in a unique position to strengthen the community’s agency in issues of surveillance and data privacy. The church cooperative works to develop a new means of democracy by establishing its own data network and management at the control of the community. Through secure internet connections and private photo storage, parishioners and the greater community have protection from data companies who might sell the data or use it for furthering research and products. Additionally, the cooperative works with the community to develop ways to analyze data sets and retrain AI algorithms, correcting biases in current day approaches.3

This new model of digital agency questions the role of the church in the 21st century. Generally, we understand the Church as an institution that connects humans to the spiritual realm, but in the digital age, can this institution connect humans to the digital realm as well? America’s relationship with religion is changing, with fewer individuals finding membership in a church to be a necessary part of their religious experience.4 Will churches find a new identity in the Digital Age? 

Einhorn, Erin. “A fight over facial recognition is dividing Detroit - with high stakes for police and privacy”. U.S. News. August 22, 2019.
Budd, Diana. “Facial recognition is becoming one of the 21st century’s biggest public space issues”. Curbed. October 19, 2018.
Smith, Gary. “High-tech redlining: AI is quietly upgrading institutional racism.” Fast Company. November 20, 2018.
Jones, Jeffrey M. “U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades”. Gallup. April 18, 2019.