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Privatized surveillance pondered in one US city. A possible biometric ban in another

Privatized surveillance pondered in one US city. A possible biometric ban in another

City officials in opposite corners of the United States are taking opposite stands on police use of surveillance systems.

In Long Beach, California, the far southwest of the country, the Equity and Human Relations Commission is recommending that the city’s mayor and council ban police use of any AI-enabled surveillance system.

The commission has posted what it says is a draft recommendation that alleges “unethical behavior” with AI systems by police. Members say that any police roles for biometric surveillance “pose significant civil liberties and racial justice concerns.”

They claim that “the technology is inherently biased, anti-black and targets immigrant communities, and should be banned from use by the City of Long Beach at this time.” (There is plenty of debate on the matter of bans and it is not clear what the trend is.)

According to the Long Beach Post, city police use multiple AI tools, including the face-matching Los Angeles County Regional ID System, or Lacris, a 9 million-mugshot database.

Commissioners also cite a lack of trust in how facial recognition is used and what new uses could be found in the future. They allege that from June 2020 to July 2021, the city’s police department spend $7.3 million on continued use of surveillance systems with too little civilian oversight.

Using face biometrics to interrupt sex trafficking and find missing people does not outweigh “algorithmic bias” victimizing people of color, who make up the majority of residents, commissioners have said.

The equity commission was responding to a recommendation by the city’s Technology and Innovation Commission. That group in March recommended a moratorium on using facial recognition and the assembling of an independent commission with authority and oversight over the technology.

Meanwhile, in the far northeast of the nation, police are considering the privatization of video surveillance in Manchester, New Hampshire, which only involves gathering surveillance video from residents. Department officials talked to the city’s police commission about a Fusus system, which they say does not include facial recognition.

In a bid that would have to approved by the police and then city leaders, people could volunteer to have their security camera feed sent to police in near real time around the clock. They also could pay $250 for a four-camera setup that would feed information to police.

An article in The New Hampshire Union Leader, states that the 285 city-owned cameras could also send endless video under the plan. They would peer outside and inside city hall, fire stations and libraries other public structures.

The story quotes a police sergeant saying that being able to tap into the surveillance feeds of private citizens would save detectives time when working on an investigation (although he reportedly also says that he has never knocked on a home’s door and been denied access to a feed.)

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