Chicago weighing special rules for businesses to use facial recognition for security

Chicago is considering amending its municipal code to allow businesses licensed by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to collect and use facial biometrics for security purposes.

The proposed amendment refers to the use of NEC’s NeoFace by CPD since 2013, and says facial recognition technology is “an invaluable tool for law enforcement in the apprehension of suspects and criminals, as well as identifying the whereabouts of missing persons.” It details a number of violent incidents, and the landscape of existing law enforcement databases and relevant regulations, which include Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) and regulations for facial recognition use by police.

The change would allow “the regulated collection of face geometry data by licensed businesses fosters greater security for all residents,” while requiring them to post signage informing customers and the general public about information being gathered, according to rules set by the CPD. It would also require businesses to establish data retention policies, and to make those policies publicly available, but does not specify what those policies should be. Businesses would continue to be banned from commercializing the information in any way.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has responded with a letter, co-authored by several other privacy organizations, setting out concerns with the change and calling for it to be rejected. In a blog post on the letter, the EFF says that the proliferation of surveillance systems with facial recognition capabilities will deter the exercise of free speech, and could affect people differently based on color of their skin. It also expresses concern that the amendment violates BIPA, and is not adequately comprehensive in its treatment of notice. Noting a history of problems related to race relations within the CPD, the EFF also says that the proposal “invites misuse by the police department,” by giving it access to biometric data without implementing reporting requirements.

The use of facial recognition by U.S. police departments has faced scrutiny this year, as Amazon faced backlash from shareholders and employees for marketing its Rekognition software to law enforcement and Kairos declined to provide its technology to police body camera maker Axon.

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