The Security Industry Association (SIA) is speaking out against a sweeping Baltimore City Council proposal that would prohibit virtually any application of facial recognition in the city. Like other bans, the Baltimore bill would apply to the government and law enforcement, but it would also extend to the private sector and limit the use of many consumer applications.
In that regard, the Baltimore proposal is reminiscent of the ban that was passed in Portland, Oregon, which prevents the use of face-based surveillance in government buildings and commercial establishments that are open to the public. However, the Baltimore measure takes things significantly further, and prohibits the use of opt-in applications that use facial recognition to deliver more personalized services to customers.
In plain terms, that means that Baltimore businesses would not be able to offer any services or applications that rely on facial recognition for onboarding, authentication, or security. For example, banks would not be able to accept selfies when someone is authorizing a transaction or opening a new account, while digital retailers would not be able to use face matching to verify the identities of people making purchases online. Those rules would cover both remote and in-person identity interactions.
For its part, SIA believes that the law is wildly out of step with the modern state of facial recognition technology. It argues that the Baltimore law would deny people access to services that could improve their lives in tangible ways, including accessibility apps built to assist blind people and those with other cognitive health concerns.
“Baltimore leaders should seize the opportunity to support a balanced, common sense policy for the use of facial recognition that safeguards access to innovative services for city residents and serves as a model policy for other local jurisdictions,” said SIA CEO Don Erickson. “An outright ban continues a distressing pattern in which the clear value of this technology is ignored. In such cases, it is local businesses and residents who stand to lose the most.”
Selfie-based onboarding solutions systems became much more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely because such systems are able to provide a more streamlined user experience while still delivering a high level of security. The SIA has opposed blanket facial recognition bans in the past, but has also laid out a set of ethical guidelines to promote the ethical development and deployment of facial recognition tech.
The Baltimore City Council’s Public Safety and Government Operations Committee voted to advance the proposal on May 26. The Portland law was the first to place facial recognition limits on businesses, though the Baltimore bill would be the first to criminalize its use in private consumer-facing tech.
June 4, 2021 – by Eric Weiss