Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Facial recognition technology targeted on Beacon Hill, Somerville

by Mary Markos | mary.markos@bostonherald.com | Boston Herald

Big Brother is watching. Or rather “Big Sister” is watching, as the Senate Majority Leader put it, which is why she is proposing a ban on facial recognition technology until regulations can be put in place to protect people’s privacy.

“I have great concerns about privacy,” Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem told the Herald. “I think we’re at a time where we’ve come so far in what we can do that we have to step back and say, ‘We have to balance the rights of privacy against the rights of public safety.’ In this instance, we don’t even know if this is working.”

Law enforcement regularly taps the Registry of Motor Vehicle’s (RMV) driver’s license database for help with facial recognition, submitting 265 requests in 2018, 29 of which from federal law enforcement agencies, according to Mass DOT.

An MIT study on three commercial facial-analysis programs found that the technology had more trouble identifying women, who were misidentified up to 20% of the time, and even more so with women of color, who were misidentified up to 35% of the time.

“It is absolutely unethical and unacceptable for the government or law enforcement agencies to use technology that is inherently racially bias,” said Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Technology for Liberty program. “First amendment concerns are not going to go away, no matter whether the technology is accurate or inaccurate because it is so profoundly dangerous.”

The ACLU supports a bill that Creem (D-Newton) filed to enact a statewide moratorium on unregulated government use of this technology because of concerns about inaccuracies, civil rights, lack of regulation and privacy.

“There are no rules,” Creem said. “We ought to be protecting and preserving our civil rights, civil liberties, racial justice and due process. This is just another example that flies in the face of those.”

But the technology is an important tool for law enforcement, according to Former Boston Police Commissioner Dan Linskey, now a Director at Kroll, a security consulting firm.

“I don’t think a moratorium is a good idea,” Linskey said. “I think we’d do a disservice to our communities to tie our officers’ hands like that. That being said, we want to make sure that we’ve got the deployment of any technology that is respectful of civil rights and privacy issues.”

A similar ban was just proposed in Somerville by City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen, who introduced an ordinance Thursday night.

“Even if we had perfect technology, this raises very serious questions about basic privacy and how much power we want to give our government,” Ewen-Campen said. “I believe this conversation needs to happen out in the open. Transparently.”