How One State Managed to Really Write Guidelines on Facial Recognition

A bill by the democratically controlled legislature banned almost all government use of facial recognition technology, with the exception of the Motor Vehicle Register, which uses it to prevent identity theft. The department could only search for police officers with a search warrant. (A warrant is required under Washington state law, which will also come into effect in July.)

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

“I’m not going to sign any bill banning facial recognition,” Baker said, according to a local report, citing its use in solving two cases of murder and child sexual abuse.

While this was just a small part of a larger law reforming law, the guidelines on facial recognition caught attention. NBA player Jaylen Brown and his Celtics teammates put an opinion piece on the Boston Globe deciphering the racial prejudice of technology and promoting regulation.

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

“We cannot allow biased technology to accelerate racist policing in the Commonwealth,” they added.

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

Some critics, including other ACLU bureaus, say that facial recognition is uniquely harmful and needs to be banned. The police unions and the Boston Police Department did not respond to requests for comment. Ryan Walsh, a public information officer for the Springfield, Massachusetts Police Department said the department does not see this action as the final word on how law enforcement agencies can use the technology.

“While we don’t currently use or plan to use facial recognition software, we hope the law will evolve as technology advances and improves,” he said.

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