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Biometric facial recognition ban considered in Pittsburgh and enacted in Jackson, Mississippi

Biometric facial recognition ban considered in Pittsburgh and enacted in Jackson, Mississippi

A bill has been introduced in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that would ban the “unrestricted” use of facial recognition by the city’s police, as well the use of predictive policing algorithms, Pittsburgh City Paper reports.

The bill was brought forward by City Councillor Corey O’Connor, a Democrat who is chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee. It applies to the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department, which oversees the police. The definition of facial recognition in the bill also includes technology to “Log characteristics of an individual’s face, head, or body to infer emotion, associations, activities, or location.”

The city’s public safety policy already prohibits the city from acquiring or using facial recognition software, though the police department is reported to have recently used the state’s Jnet facial recognition system recently. Language in the bill preserves the use of the state biometric system by city police, and O’Connor says he is not sure if the city has jurisdiction to block the use of Jnet. A predictive policing program in use by the city was suspended in June due to concerns that it entrenches racial bias.

O’Connor is quoted by the Paper as saying the technologies hurt “people of color and people in low-income areas.” He says that the purpose of the legislation is to ensure that if police want to use either of the technologies in the future, they must make their case before city council. He also hopes to spark a broader conversation about policing methods.

Council will hold an executive session with public safety officials to learn more about police protocol for protests and mass gatherings,

Jackson enacts ban citing privacy and police misconduct

Police in Jackson, Mississippi have been blocked from using biometric facial recognition after Jackson City Council approved a resolution brought forward due to privacy concerns, according to the Jackson Free Press.

The ban is considered pre-emptive, as Jackson Police Department does not currently use facial recognition.

Councillor De’Keither Stamps introduced the resolution, and says the issue “wasn’t just the cameras (on the streets). Our issue was the facial recognition portion, which is able to track people and record and document them continually,” according to the Free Press.

Stamps concerns seem particular to live or real-time facial recognition.

“We want the government solving crimes,” the Free Press quotes him as saying. “But do we want (a) government that far into tracking us, our whereabouts, where we go, how far we go, all day long and document(ing) it and keep(ing it) on recording for our foreseeable future?”

The resolution claims the technology is “programmatically” less effective for identifying people of color, women and children.

A more novel argument is that police need to be denied the technology because of they “routinely abuse confidential databases to spy on exes, business partners, neighbours, and journalists.” The resolution also claims police regularly use the technology in the absence of warrants or reasonable suspicion, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and human rights.

That argument may have received a boost when investigators with NBC 6 in South Florida discovered that accused rioter Oriana Albornoz was identified with facial recognition from Clearview AI, according to the media outlet.

Albornoz is accused of throwing rocks at police, and while Miami Police have a policy of not using facial recognition to identify people protesting or participating in “constitutionally protected activities,” committing a crime invalidates that protection.

Perhaps more problematic, the arrest report states only that the suspect was identified through investigation, and does not mention facial recognition, which does not meet the legal threshold for probably cause.

Will defunding police mean more public facial recognition?

The deployment of technologies like facial recognition and mobile device tracking for public surveillance, as well as predictive policing algorithms could become more common as police departments are defunded, writes Foreign Policy.

Whether the use of biometrics and other technologies for surveillance to prevent and investigate crime as a replacement for police would result in greater social justice, or how such a system would work, however, is highly uncertain.

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