- The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously on Friday to prohibit the procurement of facial recognition technology and the use of any related data by city departments. The surveillance ordinance (2020-00681) amends Title 2, Chapter 41 of the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances.
- The ordinance was one of 14 items advanced by the city's Policy & Government Oversight Committee per a Feb. 10 committee report to the city council. A public comment period for the ordinance attracted 31 letters of support. The council passed the ordinance and its fellow report items without discussion.
- The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) is a central focus of the ordinance as it is the only known city department to utilize facial recognition technology, the Star Tribune reports, noting MPD has a history of going through third parties like Hennepin County Sheriff's Office to surveil the public.
Minneapolis' surveillance ordinance had been floated since October 2020 when Council Member Steve Fletcher proposed the title amendment to minimize potential consequences of government surveillance. It follows the likes of Boston, Portland, OR and dozens of other U.S. cities to prohibit government from utilizing surveillance tech on the public.
Minneapolis' ban has also been a point of focus for the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology & Military Equipment (POSTME) coalition, a group of privacy advocates including ACLU of Minnesota, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Back Visions Collective who urged that the ordinance pass.
"In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, long-standing disparities in public safety have surfaced in a nationwide reckoning. Minneapolis in particular has grappled with the future of public safety," POSTME wrote in an open letter to the Minneapolis City Council. "[I]t is imperative that we do not simply transfer systemic discrimination from human personnel to digital technologies in forms such as mass unwarranted surveillance that replicates and amplifies racial and gender biases."
In a city press release, Fletcher expressed the Minneapolis community has "strong concerns" about the tech, and emphasized how facial recognition has failed some groups of people, particularly women of color, in its algorithmic biases.
"If we have cameras all over the city tracking in real time, and keeping a record in real time of where everybody goes, that feels dystopian to me and that feels like it's open for abuse," Fletcher told the Star Tribune in a January interview.
And this is not the city's first attempt to protect citizens from technologies that could trace and collect their private information. In February 2020, the city established its data privacy principles which include: "We value and prioritize your data privacy," "We do not collect data unless there is a reason to do so," and "We educate the public about their rights."
While the surveillance ordinance passed council unanimously, following unanimous public support from those who wrote into council, MPD has made clear it is not in favor of the ordinance. In a statement shared on Twitter, MPD expressed the ordinance "was crafted and approved without any consideration, insight or feedback from Chief [Medaria] Arradondo."
It goes on to say that a "mutually respectful engagement" can help the city and MPD compromise on how facial recognition "can be utilized in accordance with data privacy and other citizen legal protections."
Coincidentally, the news of Minneapolis' surveillance ban was partially overshadowed by a council vote from the same meeting to adopt the MPD's 2021 law enforcement hiring plan, which will allocate $6.4 million from the city's general fund to hire and train new police recruits. The department reportedly requested the funding after an "unprecedented" number of officers quit following the death of George Floyd, WEAU reports.
Tensions between MPD and the public are expected to remain high over the next few weeks as the state legislature begins trial of the former officers, including Derek Chauvin, involved in George Floyd's death. Those trials are expected to foster more conversation around how Minneapolis can improve police accountability and community relations beyond this surveillance ban.