The Massachusetts Facial Recognition Commission has finally released its report on the state’s use of facial recognition software. The report was requested (and the Commission formed) as part of a police reform bill that was passed in December of 2020, and was originally due before the end of 2021.
The Commission would end up missing that deadline, though it does seem to have put the extra time to good use. The 173-page report has the approval of 15 members of the Commission (with four dissenters and two abstentions), and comes with concrete recommendations for future facial regulations. Most notably, the Commission is advising state legislators to bar the use of facial recognition in local police departments to minimize the number of people with access to the technology. The Commission also wants to ban the use of facial recognition in live surveillance applications, and the use of any and all emotion recognition tech.
In cases where facial recognition is appropriate, the police would need to ask for a judge’s permission before conducting a search. That right would be reserved for the Massachusetts State Police (instead of local police), and would force investigators to show that they have reason to believe that the person they are trying to identify is linked to a felony. That means that facial recognition could only be used in felony investigations, and not for investigations involving lesser crimes. Finally, the report placed a strong emphasis on due process, and suggested that defendants should be notified if they were identified with facial recognition.
“This commission clearly felt that the commonwealth must clarify the role this technology should play in our criminal justice system and better address the due process and civil rights concerns of our residents,” said State Representative Michael Day, one of the co-chairs of the Commission. “The report lays out a series of measures that will provide our law enforcement professionals with the tools they need to keep the public safe while implementing the oversight necessary to ensure that this technology is not misused to the detriment of the general public.”
Massachusetts lawmakers had originally tried to pass a stricter facial recognition law, but backed away from a surveillance ban (amongst other measures) after Governor Charlie Baker stated that he would not sign the original bill. The Commission included representatives from the Governor’s office in addition to representatives from the state police and the ACLU, and its recommendations seem to be more in line with that initial bill.
Several Massachusetts municipalities have already banned the government use of the technology.
March 24, 2022 – by Eric Weiss