Springfield City Council Postpones Final Vote On Face Technology Ban | WAMC

Springfield City Council Postpones Final Vote On Face Technology Ban

Feb 4, 2020

Springfield City Councilor Adam Gomez, one of the co-sponsors of a 5-year moratorium on facial recognition technology, spoke in favor of the ordinance at the Feb 4, 2020 meeting.
Credit WAMC

     The issue of face surveillance technology continues to divide elected officials in the largest city in western Massachusetts. 

   After months of discussion and almost 3 hours of debate Monday night, the Springfield City Council was unable to agree on whether to impose a moratorium on local authorities using facial recognition technology.

    Facing a meeting agenda with more than 40 additional items, councilors voted 8-5 to hold over the proposed ordinance on the controversial technology.  City Council President Justin Hurst said he would schedule a special meeting of the full council to continue the debate.

   With some councilors suggesting an exemption to allow police to use the technology for limited purposes such as helping track down missing persons, and others arguing the proposed 5-year moratorium was too long, City Councilor Tim Allen said it was obvious no consensus was in sight.

"With all due respect to the process, we clearly are not ready for prime time on this," said Allen.

  City Councilor Orlando Ramos, who co-sponsored the ordinance, objected to postponing a final vote.

  "Lets get it done tonight," said Ramos. "I am ready to propose an amendment myself and I am ready to pass final step on this ordinance."

   In support of the ordinance, Ramos and others have pointed to studies that question the accuracy of the technology especially in identifying people of color.

  The council gave preliminary approval to the ordinance in January by a 9-3 vote.

  Hours before the City Council meeting began, Mayor Domenic Sarno issued a statement in which he again vowed to veto a moratorium on facial recognition technology saying it would not be in the best interest of public safety.

  Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said the police department does not have face recognition technology and is not planning to obtain it.  But she opposes a legislative ban arguing it might prevent her from exploring technologies that could assist law enforcement.

  Clapprood pledged she would not implement the use of a facial recognition system without first coming to the Council.

  "I am glad to hear people on the council that trust us and trust me, because I will come in front of you with whatever I have to offer," Clapprood said.

   During a public speak-out at the start of Monday night’s meeting, several Springfield residents urged councilors to approve the proposed moratorium.

   Zuma Rivera said the ability to solve crimes using the technology does not outweigh her concerns about privacy.

   "I would like to walk safely in our neighborhoods and know I am not being watched or targeted," said Rivera.

   Another resident, Gladys Franco said the potential harm she sees does not outweigh the possible benefits of facial recognition technology.

   " In a system that is already oppressive, a moratorium at this point is the least you could do," said Franco.

  Four municipalities in Massachusetts, including Northampton, have put in place moratoriums on the use of facial surveillance technology.