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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Filed Under: ban, facial recognition, massachusetts, somerville


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2019 @ 5:35pm

    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.


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