Somerville, Massachusetts Becomes The Second US City To Ban Facial Recognition Tech

from the pioneering-spirit-that-made-America-great dept

Is it a movement? Or just a couple of outliers that will forever remain on the periphery of the surveillance state? It’s too early to say, but at least we can now say San Francisco isn’t an anomaly.

Somerville, Massachusetts just became the second U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition in public space.

The “Face Surveillance Full Ban Ordinance,” which passed through Somerville’s City Council on Thursday night, forbids any “department, agency, bureau, and/or subordinate division of the City of Somerville” from using facial recognition software in public spaces. The ordinance passed Somerville’s Legislative Matters Committee on earlier this week.

Last month, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to ban the use of facial recognition tech by city government agencies. While it can’t keep the federales from rolling in and deploying the software against city residents, it does prevent local law enforcement from deciding this is the tech toy it can’t live without.

The ordinance passed in Somerville is pretty much the same thing. No local use, but federal-level use is OK. To be fair, the city can’t regulate the activities of the federal government. It could have forbidden local agencies from working with federal agencies using facial recognition tech, but it didn’t go quite that far.

This is a solid move, one that certainly looks smarter than allowing local cops to load up on tech that’s been roasted by Congress and (still!) sports a pretty gaudy failure rate.

If other cities are interested in joining the very short list of facial recognition banners, activists have created a few road maps for governments to use. At the moment, the greatest chance for success appears to be at the hyper-local level. The ACLU says it all comes down to cities making the most of their limited power.

Kade Crockford, director of the technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a phone call that at the state level, the ACLU is advocating for a moratorium or pause of facial recognition technology, while at the local level, the ACLU is advocating for bans.

“At the municipal level, it’s different,” Crockford said. “State governments have the capacity to regulate, whereas local governments really don’t. They don’t have the ability, for example, to create new institutions that could oversee, with sufficient care and attention, the implementation of an oversight or accountability system to guard against civil rights and civil liberties abuses.”

Generating momentum at the state level may be difficult until more cities are on board. If bans like these become more common, state legislators may respond favorably to wind direction changes and finally push back a bit against entrenched interests with an inordinate amount of power, like police unions and incumbent politicians with an authoritarian bent.

Somerville and its small network of 30 government-owned surveillance cameras may not seem like much, but a ban on the books is still effective if the city decides it needs to expand its set of eyes. And, as Vice News reports, it’s not just small towns taking up San Francisco’s anti-surveillance creep torch. Oakland — which has already made major strides in curbing local government use of surveillance gear — is considering a ban of its own.

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Comments on “Somerville, Massachusetts Becomes The Second US City To Ban Facial Recognition Tech”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: the surveillance state?

While true, I still think this is a dumb BAN. You have ZERO expectation of privacy in public. So I don’t see an issue with this so long as it works and works correctly.

So far, that really hasn’t been the case. So, anyone, these things see and say they are some type of criminal need to be taken with a grain of salt. Treat the person nicely until you have real proof that is the person it says it is. If they start to run away when you ask them to stop, well maybe they’re hiding something.

I know in the area I live in, there are Mic up on the poles so that they can triangulate where a gunshot went off at. I have Security Cameras on my house that see a number of my neighbors and so I can see them coming and going.

They don’t have a problem with them, as again, there is no privacy in public. In fact, the neighbors across the street had their new Truck Hit in a hit and run where it was parked. They told the police I had cameras. They contacted me and told me what was hit and where and a time period. I found the spot, could see and HEAR it happen as all my cameras have a Mac. No speaker, so I can’t talk back, but I can hear. Especially hear a Truch crash into another Truck. I saved the Clip and e-mailed it to them.

We are on cameras everywhere we go. They can have a normal camera in that city and the face scanning software out of the state and do the same thing. So this law really doesn’t stop anything. They also can’t stop federal law. If the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT wants to put up Face Camera’s, the City can’t stop them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: the surveillance state?

So I don’t see an issue with this so long as it works and works correctly.

"Working correctly" doesn’t simply stop at the technology. It includes the people and algorithms looking at the data churned out by the technology.

And if you think that’s working correctly you might want to look up "citizen score" initiatives in China. The system "works" as long as you’re not on the government’s shit list, and you don’t need to be a felon for that to happen.

Do you hold political alignments the mayor doesn’t agree with? Have you reported any news on crimes that were motivated by political backroom dealing, or exposed possible corruption? Defaulted on a loan because you were screwed over on a business deal? Congratulations, you now get to be fucked over on business opportunities, home applications, or long-distance travel permissions to visit the neighboring town. And you can forget about your children getting into good schools for a chance to pull yourself out of the economic rut your social score put you in either.

There isn’t a government I’d trust with this sort of surveillance power. And sure as hell not the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: the surveillance state?

There is a huge difference between you being captured everywhere you go on privately owned cameras, as those camera owners cannot piece together your life, and you being captured by cameras feeding a single database, where the government can piece together your life, political and social interactions in their totality.

The first barely intrudes on your life, as it is likely that the camera owners rarely look at the footage, as it is there in case something happens. In the second case, especially if facial recognition is used, a government official can get a detailed diary of your activities any time the want.

That is the difference from your neighbour noting that you go out most Friday nights, and the government knowing that, and also knowing what your neighbour doesn’t, where exactly you go, and who could meet there.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 the surveillance state?

Give someone one picture or video of a person and they can tell you where that person was and who(if anyone) they were with at that very moment.

Give someone thousands of pictures/videos of a person from cameras scattered throughout a city and and it becomes all too easy to create an entire narrative of their life outside the house, from where they work, who they hang out with(potentially leading to knowing their religion if any, their political party, their sexuality…), whether they might have an illness or other personal issue they might wish to keep secret…

One picture on it’s own might not be too intrusive or a privacy concern. Add up enough pictures and you might as well have anyone so covered carry a camera around them at all times, which very much is intrusive and a privacy concern.

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