Baltimore May Soon Prohibit Facial Recognition For All But Cops


After years of has failed try to curb surveillance technologies, Baltimore is close to enacting one of the nation’s strictest bans facial recognition. But Baltimore’s proposed ban would be serious very different from laws in San Francisco or Portland, Oregon: It will only last a year, police will be exempt, and certain private uses of the technology will become illegal.

City Councilor Kristerfer Burnett, who introduced the proposed ban, says it was shaped by Baltimore’s nuances, although critics lament that it could unfairly penalize, or even imprison, private citizens who use the technology.

Last year, Burnett introduced a version of the bill that would ban the city’s use of facial recognition permanently. When it failed, it instead introduced this version, with a one-year “sunset” clause requiring the council’s approval to be extended. In early June, the city council voted in its 12-2 favor; awaits now the signature of Mayor Brandon Scott.

“It was important to start having this conversation now over the next year to basically forget what a regulatory framework might be,” Burnett says.

The proposed law establishes a workforce to produce regular reports on the acquisition of newly acquired surveillance tools, describing both their cost and effectiveness. There are cities like New York and Pittsburgh created similar task forces, but have been derided as “Jets” as members lack resources or application power.

Burnett says relationships are crucial, because from one year to the next, Baltimore’s political landscape could look very different.

Since 1860, the Baltimore Police Department has been largely controlled by the state, not the city. The city council and the mayor appoint the police commissioner and establish the department’s budget, but the city council has no authority to ban the use of facial recognition by the police.

However, Baltimore residents will have the opportunity to vote on the return of the police department to control of the city by next year. Mayor Scott himself supported this change during his municipal council time. The local control measure could appear on the grounds that a one-year ban would expire, when Burnett and other privacy advocates would benefit from a year of study on the effects of a ban.

The conversation around the return of the police to control of the city resumed later the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 while in police custody. Then Mayor Catherine Pugh set up a task force to offer suggestions around police reform; in 2018, the task force published a report warning that “BPD will never be fully responsible for its residents until full control of the department is restored in the city.”

Adding the push to restore local control were revelations that police used monitoring social networks software and facial recognition to watch the protesters after Gray’s death. Burnett says the city needs to consider the correct use of “surveillance tools” before reaching an area where [surveillance] it’s so widespread that it becomes much harder to unravel. ”In contrast, he says, the government is usually“ much more responsive. ”

Critics say the proposed ban is an example of overreaction.The city’s police department and Fraternal Police Order oppose the measure. A police spokesman referred WIRED to the department’s letter to the city council, in which he wrote that “rather than a ban on the purchase of any new facial recognition technology, it would be more prudent to establish safeguards. “.

Business groups have also come out against the project, particularly the provisions around the private use of facial recognition. As written, the bill not only fines violators, throws that violation as a criminal offense, punishable by a maximum of 12 months in prison. That goes beyond one Portland Law prohibits the private use of facial recognition, which has made violators responsible for damages and attorney’s rights.

Groups such as the Security Industry Association argue that this could criminalize private business owners for, say, requiring a face-to-face check to enter facilities, or even schools to require online proxies using the technology. Councilor Isaac Schleifer cited potential criminalization as a key issue in his “no” vote on the measure.

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