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How One State Managed to Actually Write Rules on Facial Recognition


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A bill passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature banned almost all government use of facial recognition technology, except for the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which uses it to prevent identity theft. The department could run searches for police only with a search warrant. (A warrant is required under a Washington state law that also takes effect in July.)

But Massachusetts’ Republican governor, Charlie Baker, threatened to veto the measure.

“I’m not going to sign a bill into law that bans facial recognition,” Mr. Baker said, according to a local report, citing its use in solving two cases of homicide and child sexual abuse.

Though it was a small part of a larger police reform bill, the facial recognition guidelines attracted attention. NBA player Jaylen Brown and his Celtics teammates submitted an opinion article to the Boston Globe decrying the technology’s racial bias problems and supporting the regulation.

“Despite our positions and profiles as professional athletes, we are not immune to racial profiling and discriminatory policing,” they wrote. “Studies confirm that face recognition surveillance technology is flawed and biased, with significantly higher error rates when used against people of color and women.”

“We can’t allow biased technology to supercharge racist policing in the Commonwealth,” they added.

Eventually the legislators and the governor reached a compromise, in the form of the pending regulations.

Some critics, including other ACLU offices, say that facial recognition is uniquely harmful and must be banned. Police unions and the Boston Police Department did not respond to requests for comment. Ryan Walsh, a public information officer with the Springfield, Mass., police department, indicated that the department does not see this measure as the last word on how law enforcement can use this technology.

“While we do not currently use or have plans to use any facial recognition software, we hope the law evolves as the technology evolves and improves,” he said.

www.nytimes.com 2021-02-27 10:00:12

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