- The city council of Somerville, MA, a suburb of Boston, passed a measure to ban the use of facial recognition technology by police and the city government, becoming the second U.S. city to do so.
- The ban passed the council in an 11-0 vote and now goes to Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, who has been a vocal supporter of the measure, according to the Boston Globe.
- In an interview with the Globe, Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen said the measure was a response to concerns from citizens uncomfortable with the power of facial recognition. "They know how powerful this technology is," he said. "They see how unregulated it is."
Facial recognition has rapidly expanded to new public venues, especially as a public safety tool for police and homeland security. A recent Government Accountability Office report found that the FBI ran more than 50,000 facial recognition searches in the past fiscal year, and the Department of Homeland Security has used it to identify people overstaying their visas.
The police department in Orlando, FL has run two pilots with Amazon’s Rekognition software, which has also been marketed to police departments across the country. That has been met with a backlash from civil rights and privacy groups, who say the technology is untested and could infringe upon people’s rights.
Of particular concern is how the technology treats minorities; tests by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that the technology can have trouble identifying people of color. That’s led to increasing calls to pump the brakes on the technology, which are now playing out in some liberal cities.
San Francisco became the first city to bar government use of the technology, but the success in Somerville suggests there is momentum across the country. In a statement, Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU’s technology for liberty program, said the moves signaled a "growing nationwide movement to bring the technology under democratic control."
Oakland, CA will vote on a similar ban next month, and the Berkeley, CA city council could also bring up their own ban. The Massachusetts state legislature has also seen a ban introduced, and there have been bills brought up in the U.S. Congress that would regulate the technology.
Police body camera manufacturer Axon also said last week it would not sell facial recognition software to police, based on the recommendation of an independent ethics board.