Another Massachusetts city has banned the government’s use of facial recognition. Worcester City Council passed the ban unanimously in mid-December, and in doing so made Worcester the eighth municipality in the state to prohibit the public use of the technology.
In that regard, Worcester joins a list that already includes Boston, Cambridge, Springfield, Northampton, Easthampton, Somerville, and Brookline. The edict will prevent Worcester’s public agencies from using facial recognition tech and from acquiring the technology from third party providers in the future.
City Council cited concerns about bias as a primary factor in its decision. Councillors noted that face-based surveillance technology is often less accurate when applied to people of color, and that it has even led to false arrests in several instances. With that in mind, the Council is hoping that the ban will help build trust between the police and the rest of the community, since people will know that the police will not have access to facial recognition, and that any technology they do use will be thoroughly vetted before being introduced to the general public.
“The current technology has been shown to be inconsistent,” said Worcester City Councillor Khrystian King. “It’s been shown to disproportionately impact people of color, Black men and Black women in specificity. Perhaps in the future, as the technology improves, perhaps there’s a place for it.”
The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles started using facial recognition to guard against identity fraud in 2006. The Worcester police indicated that they did not have any plans to implement facial recognition tech. City Council claimed that the ban was passed proactively, and not in response to any specific local developments.
The ban reflects the growing backlash to facial recognition tech. Massachusetts has restricted the police use of the technology at the state level, though some of those restrictions were relaxed after Governor Charlie Barker refused to sign a stricter version of the bill.
Source: GBH News
January 3, 2021 – by Eric Weiss