Minneapolis passes restrictions on facial recognition use by local police

No access to third-party system allowed, private sector use untouched
Minneapolis passes restrictions on facial recognition use by local police

Minneapolis has passed legislation blocking the use of face biometrics by city police, the Star Tribune reports.

The ordinance passed by Minneapolis City Council bars local police and other city agencies from acquiring facial recognition technology, and also from accessing it through partner agencies like the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, or requesting that they use it on their behalf. The MPD is the only local agency known to have used face biometrics in the past.

Hennepin County uses facial recognition technology supplied by Cognitec, and has been used for nearly 1,000 searches since 2018, though county records show the MPD has accessed it 237 times in the past five years.

The ban includes narrow exceptions, which its author, Councilor Steve Fletcher, said do not risk harm to subjects, and also creates a transparent process for City departments to request additional approvals.

It was approved by the Council’s Policy & Government Oversight Committee, paving the way for its final approval.

The ordinance does not apply to private businesses, but is intended to improve privacy protections and reduce the potential for harm to communities of color.

Lack of clarity around consultations, actual biometrics use, and ban effectiveness

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo blasted the measure, saying he was not consulted or asked for feedback at any point during the process of crafting the biometrics restrictions.

“Chief Arradondo believes that through open minded, thoughtful and deliberate research, examination and mutually respectful engagement by both elected and public safety professionals on this important technology tool, we can arrive at a place where its application can be utilized in accordance with data privacy and other citizen legal protections,” according to a statement.

The ACLU Of Minnesota said the matter was brought up with Arradondo and the City Attorney’s Office in quarterly meetings.

A coalition to support the ordinance was led by POSTME (Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology and Military Equipment), according to the Star Tribune, and an open letter from the group to City Council alleges the continued use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition by MPD, linking to a Buzzfeed article from last May.

How effective the measure will be in preventing law enforcement facial recognition use is somewhat unclear, as officials in six of 17 U.S. cities that have passed restrictions on the technology’s use by police told The Markup or publicly stated that law enforcement officials are still able to access it through loopholes.

The loopholes take the form of clauses allowing local police to make use of biometric systems operated by state or federal agencies, or the private sector.

Kade Crawford of the ACLU of Massachusetts suggested that it is often difficult for police to know precisely how a tip was arrived at and ensure facial recognition was not involved, and that if ordinances are so narrow they restrict the use of any outside information, they could be ignored.  The ultimate answer, he believes, is a federal ban.

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