Lawmakers in Massachusetts have taken the rare step back from our inevitable, Minority Report-lite future by voting to ban police departments from using facial recognition technology.
According to TechCrunch, the ban was part of an overall police reform bill that also bans police from using chokeholds, rubber bullets, limits the use of chemical agents such as tear gas, and would authorize officers to intervene if they feel another officer is using excessive force. The bill passed through both the state House and Senate following months of gridlock and will be signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in order to become law.
The bill does allow the limited use of facial recognition searches against the state’s driver’s license database, provided the officer has a search warrant.
Kade Crockford, head of the ACLU’s Technology for Liberty program in Massachusetts, praised the move.
“No one should have to fear the government tracking and identifying their face wherever they go, or facing wrongful arrest because of biased, error-prone technology,” Crockford told TechCrunch. He went on to detail the efforts the ACLU has made over the last year to ban facial recognition in multiple municipalities throughout Massachusetts.
“We commend the legislature for advancing a bill to protect all Massachusetts residents from unregulated face surveillance technology,” Crockford added.
Like Crockford said, aside from just being creepy as all fuck, facial recognition technology is also kind of racist and incredibly flawed. There have been countless studies showing how racial bias is often baked into these programs. This racial bias often results in people being misidentified in situations where accuracy is essential. It’s already happened in Detroit when a 25-year-old, dark-skinned Black man with tattoos was arrested for an incident involving a light-skinned, tattoo-less teenager.
So it’s not simply a hypothetical that this technology can lead to really bad outcomes for folks; it’s a legitimate reality.
With the lack of any federal laws on facial recognition technology, cities across the country have elected to issue bans of their own. Last year, San Francisco banned the technology citing how it could potentially worsen racial bias. Portland issued one of the strictest bans in the country earlier this year, banning it from both local government and private businesses from using it in public areas.