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Boston (Boston???) bans facial recognition over racial bias

Boston joins cities like San Francisco, Oakland, and Cambridge, Massachusetts in banning the technology.

Jun 24, 2020, 3:18 pm*

Tech

Andrew Wyrich 

Andrew Wyrich

Boston on Wednesday became the largest city on the East Coast to ban the use of facial recognition technology by the city.

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The city council voted unanimously to pass its ban. Boston now joins a number of other cities including San Francisco, Oakland, and Cambridge, Massachusetts to enact bans.

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“Boston should not be using racially discriminatory technology and technology that threatens our basic rights,” City Councilor Michelle Wu, who co-sponsored the ordinance along with Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, said during Wednesday’s city council meeting.

Wu continued:

“We have seen just this morning in the national news, the first case of a man in Michigan arrested, detained, forced to pay to be out on bond because he was misidentified with facial recognition technology. So this is a present issue, it is one that is real.”

The ordinance bans the use of face surveillance by any official in the city and prohibits the city from entering into agreements to obtain the technology from third parties. This would include the Boston Police Department. Wu said the department was not currently using the technology.

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The move comes as discussion over law enforcement use of the technology has had renewed interest in the wake of surveillance of protests against police brutality and racism that have popped up across the country after the police killing of George Floyd.

A coalition of advocacy groups have been pushing for a federal ban on facial recognition technology use by the government and have raised alarms about the technology’s racial bias.

The vote in Boston came the same day as Robert Williams, a Black man from Detroit, came forward and said he was falsely arrested as a result of facial recognition technology incorrectly matching him to surveillance video at a crime scene.

Williams is the first-known person to have been falsely arrested because of facial recognition technology, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said.

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The ACLU filed a complaint with the Detroit Police Department on behalf of Williams to have his arrest expunged and dismissed with prejudice.

Several major technology companies, like Amazon and Microsoft, have recently made statements about their facial recognition technology and their use by police.

However, advocates have argued that the pledges—a one-year moratorium on police use from Amazon and announcing it would not sell its software police until there is a federal law by Microsoft—do not go far enough.

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*First Published: Jun 24, 2020, 3:12 pm