Springfield City Council Considers Ban On Facial Recognition Technology | WAMC

Springfield City Council Considers Ban On Facial Recognition Technology

Jan 13, 2020

   

A surveillance camera outside the entrance to Union Station in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Credit WAMC

            The city council in Springfield, Massachusetts tonight is considering banning the use of facial recognition technology. 

    

   A proposed ordinance that would impose a five-year moratorium on Springfield police and other municipal agencies from using facial surveillance technology is being re-introduced by City Councilors Adam Gomez and Orlando Ramos.

  "I think it is important to press the pause button on facial recognition technology," said Ramos.

   The concern about the technology is its possible use as a tool for racial profiling.

   Ramos and Gomez first introduced the ordinance last fall as the Springfield Police Department was preparing to outfit cops with body-worn cameras.  The rollout of the body camera program has been delayed.

  At a hearing last October by the City Council Public Safety Committee, Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said the department does not currently have the technology, has no plans to acquire it, but she opposes a legislative ban.

  "If a terrorist is wanted and the FBI puts that picture in a bank that is available to us and we have facial recognition and we can stop that person from killing people in Springfield, I would think you would want us to use it," said Clapprood.

  Mayor Domenic Sarno said in a statement last year that he would veto an ordinance banning the police from using facial recognition technology.

  Ramos, who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said he is concerned about the privacy issues raised by the technology.  He also cited studies that question the accuracy of facial recognition software when it comes to people with dark skin.

  "It would be irresponsible for any muncipality, particularly us, to deploy this technology because it will open us to litigation down the road," said Ramos.

Gomez said he wants to prevent police from misusing the technology.

"That kind of system is going to initiate on people's civil rights when they are out there marching and protesting," said Gomez.

City Councilor Tracye Whitfield cited studies that show African Americans are more likely to have their images reviewed during a computerized search by police for criminal suspects.

" I can not approve something that is going to target me: a dark-skinned Black woman," said Whitfield.

City Councilor Mike Fenton said the proposed ordinance is too restrictive.

" It goes much farther than banning facial recognition in a live form and it goes much farther than just banning facial recognition on the new body-worn cameras," said Fenton.

Three municipalities in Massachusetts, Northampton, Brookline, and Somerville have banned the use of facial recognition technology.