Debate Over Face Recognition Technology Causes Rift In Springfield | WAMC

Debate Over Face Recognition Technology Causes Rift In Springfield

Jan 31, 2020

The City Council in Springfield, Massachusetts is considering a moratorium on police use of facial surveillance technology. When City Council President Justin Hurst said he did not trust the Springfield police to have unfettered access to the technology, Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood demanded an apology.

      The city council in Springfield, Massachusetts could vote Monday to ban the government’s use of face surveillance technology.  WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

            Speaking at a hearing of the Springfield City Council Public Safety Committee, Emiliano Falcon Morano of the ACLU of Massachusetts warned that the presently un-regulated technology poses a threat to civil liberties and has been shown in several studies to be racially biased.

     “Approving this ordinance will send a message to the rest of the state, country, and world that civil rights and civil liberties are a priority in the digital 21st Century, and show that Springfield is leading the way,” said Morano.

     Four Massachusetts municipalities, including Northampton, have banned facial recognition technology.

     The proposed ordinance in Springfield would put a five-year moratorium on the use of the technology.

     Even though the Springfield Police Department does not currently use the technology and is not planning to in the near-future, Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood opposes the legislative ban.

     Clapprood called for an apology from City Council President Justin Hurst for comments he made at the committee hearing in support of the  moratorium.           

    “If we all agree that this technology at some point in time when it is perfected, or close to perfected will be useful, then as long as you come before the City Council, I don’t have a problem,” said Hurst.   

    “The idea that I am just going to trust Commissioner Clapprood or the police department is just not going to happen. But,if we have the moratorium in place, then I don’t have to worry about trust,” he said at the hearing.

     In a statement, Clapprood called the remarks “disrespectful.”  

     Hurst is not apologizing.

    “I stand by everything that I said,” Hurst told WAMC.       

      He went on to say that opposition to the facial recognition technology ban would “further exacerbate” distrust between communities of color and law enforcement.

      “It has not changed my perspective on the facial recognition technology that has been deemed unreliable by a variety of different people,” said Hurst.

     Mayor Domenic Sarno has stated he will veto the ordinance. 

     City Councilor Orlando Ramos, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the ordinance received first-step approval from nine of the 13 City Councilors.

     “I am confident we will be able to hold on to those nine votes and override the veto, if we have to,” Ramos told WAMC.

     Ramos is a co-sponsor of the ordinance with City Councilor Adam Gomez.