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Portland, Oregon bans face biometrics for businesses and local police

Albany, Pittsburgh and New York State consider new regulations
Portland, Oregon bans face biometrics for businesses and local police

Biometric facial recognition can no longer be used by private organizations or local agencies in Portland, Oregon after City Council enacted the most stringent bans to date in the U.S. against the technology, CNET reports.

More limited bans and moratoriums have been adopted by state and city governments in California and Massachusetts, including San Francisco and Boston, but none blocked businesses from using facial recognition in systems such as for employee time and attendance or loss reduction.

At least one of the two bills passed City Council unanimously, according to CNET. CNET also reports that the ban will extend to airports, where it is used for boarding checks, but given the technology’s operation in that case is for federal government programs, it is unclear if the jurisdiction of the bans extends that far.

“All Portlanders are entitled to a city government that will not use technology with demonstrated racial and gender biases that endanger personal privacy,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler during the council meeting.

The International Biometrics + Identity Association (IBIA) responded to the proposed bills earlier this year, pointing out that their inclusion of technologies inferring personal characteristics with facial recognition is not grounded in science.

“Conflating this with facial recognition only confuses the issues and will certainly preclude an informed discussion on the public safety and security benefits of facial recognition technology,” the organization wrote at the time.

The key difference between Portland’s step and those taken in other places is the ban on the technology’s use in the private sector.

“This is the first of its kind legislation in the nation, and I believe in the world,” CNET quotes Wheeler as saying. “This is truly a historic day for the city of Portland.”

Jacksons Food Stores has operated facial recognition systems from Blue Line Technology at retail locations in the Portland area since 2018.

Amazon spent $24,000 lobbying against the bill, Vice reports, after reportedly spending $12,000 last year. The ecommerce giant recently announced a year-long moratorium on its sales of facial recognition to law enforcement in the U.S., saying it was doing so to give Congress time to enact regulations at the federal level.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said the city will not allow the use of facial recognition until problems related to the overcriminalization of darker-skinned people are addressed, with verification from independent sources.

Other governments consider face biometrics regulation

Local governments in Albany, New York and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are also considering new limitations to the use of facial recognition by local law enforcement.

Pittsburgh’s City Council decided this week to delay its vote on a proposal to regulate the use of facial biometrics and predictive algorithms by city police, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Computer science researchers including a doctoral student in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University have told city council that the AI technologies should be banned entirely, the Tribune-Review writes.

Pittsburgh police do not currently use facial recognition, and ceased using a predictive policing algorithm developed by Carnegie Mellon earlier this year.

Amendments to the bill written in collaboration with the city’s Law and Public Safety Departments have been approved by council, like a clause for extenuating circumstances in which police could tap into state and federal tools.

Councilman Ricky Burgess said he would need more time to examine the bill as he seeks to balance the need for regulation against the need to bring down the city’s homicide rate, which disproportionally affects Black people.

Council voted seven to one to hold the bill back by a week.

An ordinance has been proposed in Albany to regulate the use of facial recognition, as well as surveillance cameras, police body cameras, software for monitoring social media posts, and computer and network hacking technologies, local CBS affiliate WRGB Albany writes.

The ordinance would mandate the city to create protocols to protect against potential violations of human rights through the use of the above technologies.

Albany police say the proposal is overly broad and would prevent their use of many investigative tools. The force used forensic facial recognition searches 36 times in 2019, and 32 so far this year.

The bill remains in committee, and the police and city have reportedly agreed to work on amending it.

A pair of Democratic New York State legislators have introduced a proposal to place a five year moratorium on the use of biometric facial recognition on police body cameras, the Observer reports. The lawmakers cited studies from MIT and Stanford University and the ACLU that indicate differences in biometric performance based on demographics.

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