Boston will become the second largest city in the US to ban facial recognition software for government use after a unanimous city council vote. Following San Francisco, which banned facial recognition in 2019, Boston will bar city officials from using facial recognition systems. The ordinance will also bar them from working with any third party companies or organizations to acquire information gathered through facial recognition software. The ordinance was co-sponsored by Councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Michelle Wu, who were especially concerned about the potential for racial bias in the technology, according to a report from WBUR. 'Boston should not be using racially discriminatory technology and technology that threatens our basic rights,' Wu said at a hearing before the vote.
On Tuesday, in an 8-1 tally, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to ban the use of facial recognition software by city departments, including police. Supporters of the ban cited racial inequality in audits of facial recognition software from companies like Amazon and Microsoft, as well as dystopian surveillance happening now in China. At the core of arguments around the regulation of facial recognition software use is the question of whether a temporary moratorium should be put in place until police and governments adopt policies and standards or it should be permanently banned. Some believe facial recognition software can be used to exonerate the innocent and that more time is needed to gather information. Others, like San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, believe that even if AI systems achieve racial parity, facial recognition is a "uniquely dangerous and oppressive technology."
As police embrace new facial recognition technology, many fear false matches could lead to wrongful arrests. The fight over the use of our faces is far from done. A raging battle over controversial facial recognition software used by law enforcement and the civil rights of Americans might be heading to a courtroom. The latest salvo includes the American Civil Liberties Union suing the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency for those federal agencies' records to see if there is any secret surveillance in use nationwide. The lawsuit, filed Oct. 31, comes as organizations and law enforcement are going toe-to-toe over what is private and what isn't.
Facial recognition software has become increasingly common in recent years. Facebook uses it to tag your photos; the FBI has a massive facial recognition database spanning hundreds of millions of images; and in New York, there are even plans to add smart, facial recognition surveillance cameras to every bridge and tunnel. But while these systems seem inescapable, the technology that underpins them is far from infallible. In fact, it can be beat with a pair of psychedelic-looking glasses that cost just $0.22. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have shown that specially designed spectacle frames can fool even state-of-the-art facial recognition software.
The high-profile case of a Black man wrongly arrested earlier this year wasn't the first misidentification linked to controversial facial recognition technology used by Detroit police, the Free Press has learned. Last year, a 25-year-old Detroit man was wrongly accused of a felony for supposedly reaching into a teacher's vehicle, grabbing a cell phone and throwing it, cracking the screen and breaking the case. Detroit police used facial recognition technology in that investigation, too. It identified Michael Oliver as an investigative lead. After that hit, the teacher who had his phone snatched from his hands identified Oliver in a photo lineup as the person responsible.