The Cambridge City Council has unanimously voted to ban the public use of facial recognition technology. The decision makes Cambridge the fourth (and largest) Massachusetts community to issue such a ban, following similar initiatives in Somerville, Brookline, and Northampton.
The legislation specifically bars the deliberate use of facial recognition (and any information gathered through facial recognition) by any city department, up to and including law enforcement. A previous 2018 law allowed different institutions to use biometric tech if they obtained approval from City Council, though the new legislation obviously supersedes that law and closes the loophole.
Like San Francisco’s initial facial recognition ban, the Cambridge action is noteworthy given the presence of major corporations like Google and leading academic institutions like Harvard and MIT. The city council cited growing privacy concerns and racial bias while making its decision.
“Cambridge joins a small but growing number of cities who are stepping up to protect residents from intrusive and undemocratic technology,” tweeted City Councilor Marc McGovern after the 9-0 vote, which took place on Monday.
“Massachusetts cities and towns are stepping up to ensure that face surveillance technology doesn’t get out ahead of our basic rights,” added Kade Crockford, the Director of the Technology for Liberty Program for the ACLU of Massachusetts. “We are particularly grateful for Cambridge’s leadership as a technology hub home to many tech workers and companies.”
The Massachusetts ACLU is currently encouraging campaigning for a statewide ban on facial recognition. In the meantime, the Springfield City Council is also considering a ban, with a final vote on the issue expected to take place next month.
Law enforcement officers have repeatedly tried to argue that facial recognition can be a boon to public safety. However, those arguments have done little to stem the public backlash as more municipalities have placed restrictions on the practice.
January 15, 2020 – by Eric Weiss