The Northampton, Mass., City Council has voted to ban facial recognition technology that collects biometric information, passing the ordinance unanimously through its nine-person governing body.
(TNS) — The Northampton, Mass., City Council voted to ban facial recognition technology Thursday night, becoming the third community in the state to do so.
The ordinance, which passed unanimously in the nine-person city council, prohibits Northampton from collecting and using people’s biometric information through surveillance technology, according to Northampton City Council President Ryan O’Donnell.
Chief among the concerns about surveillance through facial recognition is the worry that the technology is outpacing the regulation, said O’Donnell. State legislation prohibiting the technology is largely non-existent.
“I have a general concern that this technology moves quickly but our regulation of it is not keeping up,” O’Donnell said. “I think we need to have appropriate safeguards and regulations.”
Another concern with machine-learning technology and artificial intelligence is built-in human bias regarding factors like race, according to O’Donnell.
Thursday’s vote comes less than two weeks after Brookline residents banned the use of face surveillance technology in their own town. Somerville’s city council passed an ordinance similar to Northampton’s in June, making it the second city in the U.S. to do so. San Francisco was the first city to approve such a ban in May.
O’Donnell said because facial recognitions tools remain largely unregulated by the state and federal government, the responsibility falls on "towns and cities to make up the difference.”
“I think this is an issue that’s going to be a key issue in our generation," he said.
In 2017, Northampton’s city council passed an ordinance limiting use of surveillance cameras in the community’s business district after the city’s police department proposed adding security cameras at various downtown locations.
The ordinance, authored largely by O’Donnell, was widely debated but passed 7-2 in the council. This time around, the issue was less contested, according to O’Donnell.
“It’s such a different dynamic now," he said. "This is a specific ordinance on a specific piece of technology.”
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