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Massachusetts lawmakers pass state-wide police ban on facial recognition

But the bill still needs the governor's signature to become a law.
Mariella Moon, @mariella_moon
December 2, 2020
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Massachusetts could make history as the first state to issue a ban on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement. The state’s House and Senate lawmakers have approved a police reform bill that would prohibit police departments and other public agencies from using facial recognition systems. As Forbes notes, there will be exceptions, such as if cops can secure a warrant to use facial recognition against someone’s driver’s license. Officers can also write a request to be able to use the technology if they can show evidence that it’s needed to prevent serious injury or death.

In addition to the facial recognition ban, the police reform bill also prohibits cops from using chokeholds and rubber bullets. It limits the use of tear gas and other chemical agents, as well. Before the state can implement its rules, however, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has to sign it into law.

Several cities across the US had passed similar facial recognition bans over the past couple of years. San Francisco became the first city to prohibit its use back in May 2019, followed by Somerville, Mass. and Oakland, California. Boston banned the technology in June, while Portland, Maine followed just this November. Those cities’ rules, like Massachusetts, only prohibit the use of facial recognition by law enforcement and government officials, though. Back in September, officials in Portland, Oregon passed the strictest municipal ban on facial recognition in the country, preventing even private businesses from deploying the technology in public spaces.

Kade Crockford from the ACLU of Massachusetts told TechCrunch in a statement:

“No one should have to fear the government tracking and identifying their face wherever they go, or facing wrongful arrest because of biased, error-prone technology. We commend the legislature for advancing a bill to protect all Massachusetts residents from unregulated face surveillance technology.”

Facial recognition systems are still far from perfect, and studies continue to show that they’re more likely to misidentify POCs than their Caucasian counterparts. The technology’s use led to at least two wrongful arrests in Detroit earlier this year, and both misidentified individuals were Black men.

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