Facial recognition legislation rolls on in New Orleans and Oakland, Boston Celtics players urge passage

Advocates connect biometrics and license plate readers to evictions
Facial recognition legislation rolls on in New Orleans and Oakland, Boston Celtics players urge passage

New Orleans City Council has passed a ban on the use of facial recognition by police and other local agencies, The Lens reports, including the use of data obtained by other using the biometric technology.

The ban also applies to predictive policing technologies, and adds new regulations to the surveillance technologies the agencies are allowed to use. The Lens reports that a comprehensive transparency report requirement included in the original version is not part of the ordinance.

The ordinance passed by a 6 to 1 vote, and will go into effect at the end of December.

Characteristic recognition and tracking and cell-site simulators are also now banned. The ordinance specifically mentions characteristic-tracking software BriefCam, which the city claims it stopped using in late-2019. City police have also said they do not use facial recognition, though they have since revealed the use of state and federal systems.

The ban refers not just to acquiring the technology, but also using it or any information derived from it, which presumably prevents local forces from using state and federal facial recognition systems. NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said that the department is working on a facial recognition policy.

Several council members had expressed concern about enacting the restrictions, saying their constituents supported more surveillance, though a restriction on license plate recognition systems was subsequently removed from the proposal.

Oakland follows suit

Oakland, California is likewise set to ban the use of biometrics, including facial recognition as well as other biometric modalities like gait, and also predictive policing technologies, after the city’s privacy commission realized it had no regulation of the technology on the books, according to State Scoop.

Oakland Police Department said it does not currently use the technology, or have any plans to use it.

The city does not have policies in place to govern the technologies, including those they have used, according to the Chair of the city’s privacy advisory commission, Brian Hoffer.

The Chief Privacy Officer of Oakland, Joe DeVries, says the city’s crime lab does gather masses of biometric data, and the ordinance is intended to ensure it does not do so in the future.

Massachusetts governor urged to sign restrictions

Players for the National Basketball Association’s Boston Celtics have expressed dismay at the rejection of a ban on police use of facial recognition by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, alleging the biometric technology “supercharges racial profiling” in an open letter published by the Boston Globe.

The players cite claims of generalized bias and the arrest of Robert Williams, as well as Detroit-area man Michael Oliver, another Black man wrongfully arrested after being matched to footage of an incident and misidentified in a photo lineup by the victim.

The letter also notes that the legislation includes a clause for facial recognition to be used against the state driver’s license image database in the case of serious crimes and emergencies.

“This strikes the right balance — protecting both our right to be free from unchecked government surveillance and the government’s ability to investigate the most serious crimes,” the athletes write.

They call on the Massachusetts Legislature to return the bill to the governor.

Tenants not consulted on surveillance deployments

Facial recognition systems are being routinely deployed to residential areas without consent from or notification of residents, according to a speakers in a webinar reported by Reuters.

Further, biometrics and other technologies used by landlords in property surveillance applications, like license plate readers, could be used to evict people, AI Now Institute Researcher Erin McElroy told viewers.

The webinar was organized by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, AI Now Institute and People Power Media, an advocacy media group.

Facial recognition was mentioned being potentially used to identify tenants who are behind on rent.

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