- Boston just banned the use of facial recognition technology by city agencies. It is the second-largest city in the world to do so, behind San Francisco.
- The Boston City Council voted unanimously to ban the technology in the city Wednesday. The move also bans city officials from asking a third party to carry out facial recognition.
- The legislation was spurred by multiple studies that have shown facial recognition algorithms are more likely to misidentify people of color than white people, as well as privacy concerns.
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Boston’s city council voted unanimously to ban the use of facial recognition technology by the city Wednesday, WBUR first reported.
The move comes on the heels of pressure from civil liberties advocates and academics who have pointed to faults in facial recognition algorithms. A sweeping federal study last year found that most major facial recognition software is more likely to misidentify people of color than white people.
The Boston ordinance comes the same week that a Black man from Detroit came forward, who says he was arrested and wrongfully accused of theft after a police facial recognition scan matched him to crime scene footage. He was later released from police custody without charges.
Boston is the second-largest city to ban facial recognition, after San Francisco. The ban will prevent any city employee from using facial recognition or from asking a third party to use the technology. Five other municipalities in Massachussetts have also banned the technology.
“In a time where we’re seeing so much direct action in the form of marches and protests for rights, any kind of surveillance technology that could be used to essentially chill free speech or … more or less monitor activism or activists is dangerous,” Boston city councilor Ricardo Arollo said Wednesday.
Boston’s police department had already disavowed the technology and said it hasn’t used it, citing concerns that it’s unreliable.
Amid mounting public criticism of facial recognition technology, several major tech companies have distanced themselves from their own facial recognition products in recent weeks. Amazon, which sells facial recognition tech to police across the US, announced this month that it would “suspend” new sales of the technology for one year. IBM also said it would halt sales of “general purpose” facial recognition technology indefinitely. However, civil liberties advocates have criticized those moratoriums, arguing they don’t go far enough.