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Boston Is Latest City to Ban Facial Recognition Technology, Even as Federal Legislation Introduced

Facial Recognition System concept.
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on June 29, 2020 1:04 PM

Fears over the use and abuse of facial recognition technology are prompting municipalities across the U.S. to ban facial recognition technology. It has also led federal legislators to introduce a bill that would prohibit federal agencies from using the controversial AI-driven software.

Boston city officials and police will no longer be able to use facial recognition technology, after an ordinance passed on Wednesday, June 24. San Francisco was the first city to ban the emerging technology, and other cities have followed suit. Notably, Boston is the sixth city in Massachusetts that prohibits the local government from using facial recognition technology. Boston is the second-largest city to ban city use of facial recognition technology. The next day, June 25, Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill targeting federal law enforcement use of facial recognition technology. Congressional lawmakers have been considering the issue since the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile, Amazon announced earlier this month that it will stop selling its facial recognition technology to police for one year nationwide. Microsoft has also said it will limit who it sells its technology to, and Microsoft President Brad Smith has publicly called for federal legislation limiting the use of facial recognition technology. IBM has stopped investing in facial recognition technology altogether.

Technology With a Racial Bias?

There have long been privacy and constitutional concerns regarding the use of facial recognition technology. However, in the wake of mass protests over police violence, there has also been increased awareness of the role bias plays in the use of the technology.

The tech itself has difficulty distinguishing minorities. Facial recognition technology uses artificial intelligence. Currently, AI programs rely on massive data sets to be able to distinguish between faces. When machine learning occurs on predominately white data sets, the result is that more errors occur in minorities.

In addition, law enforcement can potentially use facial recognition software as an enforcement tool targeting minority communities. According to Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who introduced the bill in the House, “Black and brown people are already over-surveilled and over-policed, and it's critical that we prevent government agencies from using this faulty technology to surveil communities of color even further."

While it is unclear if the bill will even make it to a vote, municipalities are continuing to examine the issue. As major cities re-examine law enforcement tools, it is likely more cities will contemplate banning the use of facial recognition technology.

Related Resources

Is Congress About to Take a Shot at Regulating Facial Recognition Technology? (FindLaw's Technologist)

How Can Your Law Firm Use Facial Recognition Technology? (FindLaw's Technologist)

Is Facial Recognition 'Disrupting' Civil Rights? (FindLaw's Technologist)

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