Springfield Passes Moratorium On Face Surveillance Technology | WAMC

Springfield Passes Moratorium On Face Surveillance Technology

Feb 25, 2020

Under an ordinance approved by the City Council in Springfield, Massachusetts, police and other municipal departments can not use facial surveillance technology until a policy is adopted by the Springfield police and approved by the council.
Credit WAMC

The city council in Springfield, Massachusetts has voted to ban police from using a controversial technology.   

Following hours of debate and discussion over many months, the City Council voted 11-2 Monday night to approve a moratorium on the use of facial surveillance technology.

"I am glad we finally got it passed, " said City Councilor Orlando Ramos, who co-sponsored the ordinance with City Councilor Adam Gomez.  He pointed to studies that showed the technology was inaccurate when identifying people of color and argued it was not ready for police to use.

"I am glad we were able to implement this oridinance and put the moratorium in place to protect the people of the city of Springfield," said Ramos.

But for months, Mayor Domenic Sarno had threatened to veto a ban on what he said could prove to be a useful crime-fighting tool.

Several councilors worked with Sarno’s Chief of Staff Tom Ashe to reach a compromise.  Rather than a five-year ban as originally proposed by Ramos, the ordinance approved Monday night imposes a moratorium until the Springfield Police Department develops a policy for using facial recognition technology that is approved by the council.

"We were never too far about to begin with, it was just a matter of coming to the table and having that discussion." said Ramos.

Ramos said the ordinance will not prevent the police from listening to technology companies pitch their products and kicking the tires.

"The hope is now that this technology continues to evolve. we will be approached by these technology companies and hopefully use tools that are effective and accurate," Ramos said. "This was never an anti-police ordinance."

City Councilor Victor Davila, who with Councilor Tim Allen voted no on the moratorium, said he wanted an exception that would let police use the technology without restrictions in the search for missing persons and kidnapped children.

"If there is a technology out there that could help me even if there is a slim chance of finding my loved one, I'd take that chance," Davila said.

The ACLU of Massachusetts, which has been campaigning since last June to get municipalities to enact bans on face surveillance technology, applauded the Springfield City Council’s vote.   Kade Crockford, director of the organization’s Technology for Liberty Program, said even when it works correctly, facial recognition technology in the hands of the government is a threat to civil liberty.

"The reality is that in order to use a technology like this to locate anyone it would require setting up a surveillance system akin to what the Chinese government has done  in Shaanix province which essentially enables the tracking of all people's public movements," said Crockford.

Four other Massachusetts communities, including Northampton, passed bans earlier this year.

Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood has said the department does not use facial surveillance technology in its real-time crime analysis center and it will not be included in the body-worn camera system that is scheduled to rollout later this year.