“The final decision comes roughly a month after the Boston City Council first revealed that it was considering facial recognition legislation.”
Boston has become the latest city to ban the government use of face-based surveillance technology. The state capital follows in the footsteps of the neighboring city of Cambridge, which passed its own facial recognition ban at the beginning of the year.
The Boston City Council cited privacy and accuracy concerns as the primary motivations for the new ordinance, acknowledging that public scrutiny has intensified in the past few months due to the ongoing protests against police brutality. The law noted that many facial recognition algorithms have displayed significant racial bias and will consequently have a disproportionately negative impact when used against communities of color. For example, Robert Williams recently filed a complaint against the Detroit Police after he was arrested based on nothing more than a false facial recognition match.
The City of Boston took the recommendations of the Electronic Frontier Foundation into account while crafting the new legislation. Most notably, the EFF encouraged the city to allow plaintiffs to collect attorney’s fees if they file a successful complaint, which will make it easier for lower income individuals to fight against facial recognition and protect their rights. The City also got rid of a loophole that could have allowed the police to collect facial information from third parties.
The final decision comes roughly a month after the Boston City Council first revealed that it was considering facial recognition legislation. The Massachusetts communities of Brookline and Somerville have already passed similar ordinances, placing the state at the forefront of the national conversation surrounding privacy and state surveillance.
For its part, the EFF has repeatedly called for more stringent facial recognition regulations, and has even opposed a California bill that does not have strong enough protections for civilians. The organization has previously highlighted the fact that government agencies already have access to massive amounts of biometric data, and that many people are not aware that their images are being stored in those databases.
June 29, 2020 – by Eric Weiss