After san Francisco, Oakland and Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Boston legislature voted Wednesday to pass a bill banning the government from using facial recognition technology,media CNET reported. It is the second-largest u.S. city to ban facial recognition technology after San Francisco issued a ban in May 2019. The law, which was passed by a full vote, would prevent the Boston government from using facial recognition technology or obtaining software that uses it for monitoring.
“Boston should not use racist technology that threatens our fundamental rights,” City Councilman Michelle Wu said at Wednesday’s hearing. There are exceptions to the law, such as allowing city employees to authenticate using facial recognition technology, such as unlocking their devices. City officials can also use face recognition technology to automatically cut faces from images. But they can’t use it to identify people.
Boston City Councilman Ricardo Arroyo and Michelle Wu co-sponsored the bill. Wednesday’s decision makes Boston the largest city on the East Coast that bans facial recognition technology. Overall, it prevents the city of Boston from using facial recognition technology or obtaining information from facial recognition systems, or hiring third parties to use facial recognition technology on behalf of the city.
The ban comes after nationwide calls for police reform and restrictions on surveillance technologies such as facial recognition. Cities such as New York have passed legislation to make the NYPD’s surveillance tools available, and companies such as Amazon and IBM have announced a moratorium on the sale of facial recognition technology to police departments.
Facial recognition technology has come under wide spread after researchers exposed the technology’s racial and gender biases. The study highlights how algorithms are more likely to misidentify people of color and women than identifying white men, raising concerns about how the government uses the technology. “Monitoring our people for face recognition is not necessarily the way we want to go in a free society,” City Councilman Liz Breadon said at the hearing.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced a lawsuit wednesday in Detroit after police mistakenly arrested Robert Williams, a black man who was mistakenly identified by the city’s facial recognition software. It’s the first known case of arrests caused by a face recognition mismatch, but privacy advocates worry that if police continue to use the technology, it’s just the beginning.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said: “This is a critical victory for our privacy and for people like Robert Williams, who have been arrested for technology that law enforcement should not use. Lawmakers across the country should follow suit and immediately stop law enforcement from using the technology. This monitoring technology is dangerous when it is correct and when it is wrong. “
Boston’s police department does not currently use facial recognition technology, but Wednesday’s vote ensured it would not be available in the near future. “Face recognition is inherently dangerous and oppressive. It cannot be reformed or regulated. It has to be abolished,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights group Fight for The Future. “Boston has just become the latest big city to stop using this unusual and toxic surveillance technology. Every other city should follow suit. “
At a June 9 hearing in Boston City Council, the city’s police chief, William Gross, said he was not interested in facial recognition technology, which still has racial bias. According to the regulations, violations of the Regulation may result in suspension or dismissal.