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Baltimore considers bills to restrict facial recognition use by police, businesses

Baltimore considers bills to restrict facial recognition use by police, businesses

Baltimore City Council has proposed legislation that would require businesses employing facial recognition software to register with a city and post a sign saying “facial recognition technology in use” to notify patrons, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The sign would let patrons know that entering an establishment is the same as “consenting to your physical appearance being collected, generated or analyzed.” This follows as a moratorium on facial recognition software (except for city police) expired in 2022.

The bill would also restrict the police use of facial recognition to the investigation of serious crimes. It would also require that police document and release how often the tools are used in annual reports. The specific software and hardware being used would also be evaluated for accuracy.

On Wednesday, two Baltimore City Council committees discussed two proposals but did not vote on either. Their sponsor, Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, said small changes need to be made before finalizing the language, but that the proposals are “a step in the right direction.”

Aside from rules on data privacy, “the status quo is there are no legal guardrails in the private sector or public sector on how most of these technologies are used,” he says.

One bill was designed to foster transparency for the use of facial recognition, while the second would create an 11-member community advisory commission to oversee the use of surveillance technology, provide policy recommendations, and establish more stringent reporting requirements for face biometrics and other surveillance technology.

Andrew Northrup from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender said that Baltimore Police received roughly 811 facial recognition reports in 2022, but that public defenders were only aware of “a fraction of these.” Some charges brought to those identified were filed “based solely on an FRT hit.”

On March 28th, 2022 in Baltimore, one man, Alonzo Cornelius Sawyer, was falsely arrested for assault after police ran grainy surveillance footage through face recognition software and received a list of potential suspects from which they subjectively selected Sawyer as the top match, according to The New Yorker. The victim explicitly denied that Sawyer was the man who assaulted her.

Sawyer’s probation officer confirmed that Sawyer was the individual in the footage – though he had only ever seen Sawyer twice beforehand. The officer only retracted his statement once Sawyer’s wife brought in additional photos for him to compare to the footage.

Sawyer was released from jail days later – but says he would’ve otherwise taken a plea deal to avoid the potential 25-year sentence for the alleged crime.

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