The city of Boston is considering passing a ban on the use of facial recognition technology, a move that would make then the third municipality to do so in the state of Massachusetts in the past 6 months following similar moves from the communities of Brookline and Cambridge late last year and earlier this year respectively.
According to a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (ACLU), the move was introduced as an ordinance that would restrict the local government’s use of the technology by City Councillors Michelle Wu and Ricardo Arroyo on Wednesday May 6th.
Citing public records it obtained, the ACLU claimed there is a sense of urgency in the passing of the ordinance as the contract city of Boston signed with BriefCam in 2017 to run its network of surveillance cameras expires on May 14. Accord
Though Boston’s current version of the network doesn’t include facial recognition capabilities, according to the ACLU it could choose to upgrade to BriefCam’s latest software should it renew the contract.
“A mere software update at the Boston Police Department could super-charge Boston’s existing network of surveillance cameras, establishing a face surveillance system capable of monitoring every person’s public movements, habits, and associations,” the ACLU of Massachusetts said in a statement.
The use of biometric facial recognition technology remains largely unregulated statewide as well as nationally, though there are a handful of pieces of legislation in some states that have been used as the platform for a number of lawsuits in recent months, most notably the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) in Illinois.
The ordinance proposal by the city comes as state legislators in Massachusetts consider a statewide moratorium of the government’s use of facial recognition tech as well as other forms of biometric surveillance like gait and voice recognition, a move which polls show has the support of roughly 8 out of 10 voters in the state.
The attempt to ban the technology’s use in Boston is a part of the ACLU’s “Press Pause on Facial Surveillance” campaign, launched last summer with the aim of educating the public about the civil liberties concerns posed by the growth of facial recognition technology.
Councillors Wu and Arroyo point to the racial bias demonstrated by the technology as one of the reasons for their efforts to curtail its use.
“Studies continue to provide evidence that facial recognition technology disproportionately harms Black and Brown communities which further widens the racial inequities we already face,” Arroyo said in a statement. “Especially now, during a time where communities of color are being hit hardest by COVID-19, we need to proactively ensure that we do not invest in technology that studies show are ineffective and further racial inequity.”
With regards to the use of the technology during the COVID-19 pandemic as a means of helping stop the spread of the virus, the councillors urged that any use of it be “proportionate, effective and responsible.”
May 11, 2020 – by Tony Bitzionis