Somerville May Become First East Coast City To Ban Facial Recognition Technology
Photo Credit: Somerville is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States located two miles northwest of Boston. It is the 15th most densely populated city in the country.

Somerville May Become First East Coast City To Ban Facial Recognition Technology

Privacy and civil rights advocates are working to ensure facial recognition technology doesn’t come to their city. Last week, the Somerville City Council in Massachusetts proposed a ban on the technology.

So far, the proposed bill is backed by nine of 11 city council members, along with Mayor Joseph Curtatone, as reported by The Boston Globe. Under the bill, the government wouldn’t be able to use facial recognition and other “remote biometric surveillance systems” until the state develops a framework for its use.

Any data collected through facial recognition would be “unlawfully obtained.” That means it couldn’t be used in trial and the bill calls for it to be deleted immediately. In addition, if the banned technology is used on anyone, that person is allowed to seek damages.

Facial recognition’s largely unregulated spread was noted in a testimony given by Emiliano Falcon, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Massachusetts:

“First, face surveillance is currently unregulated in Massachusetts. Nonetheless, the spread of this technology is occurring in the dark, absent public debate or democratic oversight. Government agencies are adopting it despite the absence of privacy regulations, the technology’s inaccuracy, and the threats it poses to free and open societies.”

The bill itself highlights that facial recognition is riddled with inaccuracies, especially when it comes to women, young people, and people of color. It claims that the biases — racial and otherwise — in many databases using facial recognition can “generate copycat biases in face surveillance data.”

“[T]he benefits of using facial surveillance, which are few and speculative, are greatly outweighed by its harms, which are substantial,” the bill says.

The ACLU believes that Somerville is the first city on the East Coast to pursue a government ban on facial recognition, The Boston Globe reported.

However, the fight against facial recognition in the East Coast isn’t limited to Somerville alone. Only a few hours away, residents in Brooklyn are fighting back against a landlord trying to replace key fobs with facial recognition technology.