Most Massachusetts Voters Want Rules for Facial Recognition

A recent ACLU of Massachusetts poll of residents showed that nine in 10 voters support government regulation of facial recognition technology. A state moratorium on the tech had 79 percent support.

by Marie Szaniszlo Boston Herald / June 19, 2019
Boston, Mass. Shutterstock/Sean Pavone

(TNS) — Nine in 10 Massachusetts voters think the state should regulate government use of face surveillance technology, and 79% support a moratorium until the state does, according to a poll released Tuesday by the ACLU of Massachusetts.

In a telephone survey conducted last month of 503 Massachusetts voters, 69% said they think computer programs designed to analyze images of human faces to identify and track people without their knowledge or consent are very important to regulate, and 22% think they’re somewhat important to regulate. Fifty-nine percent strongly support and 20% somewhat support a moratorium on government use of such technology.

Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, called face surveillance a “dystopian technology” that “threatens to create a world in which all of us are tracked” and that reinforces racial biases because research has shown it has difficulty recognizing people of color.

In one test, Joy Buolamwini, a computer scientist at the MIT Media Lab, said she ran Amazon’s Rekognition software, for example, it identified Oprah Winfrey’s face as the face of a man.

“This kind of technology … can be used to profile individuals,” Buolamwini said. “This isn’t hypothetical.”

The poll’s release marks the launch of a campaign to raise awareness about face surveillance technology and calls for a statewide moratorium on the government’s use of the technology, which is the goal of a bill pending before the state Legislature.

Since 2006, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles has used facial recognition technology to screen applicants for driver’s licenses and to prevent attempted identify fraud, and the RMV’s digital images are shared with police as part of a wide range of databases they can access to compare images, the Herald reported earlier this month.

“We also know that the State Police has been using and allowing law enforcement — both here in Massachusetts and federal law enforcement agencies — to perform facial recognition searches based on 4 million mugshot photos in a system called COPLINK for a number of years now,” said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Likewise, there are no checks and balances with respect to that system.”

David Procopio, a state police spokesman, called that “inaccurate,” saying, “When facial recognition is utilized to develop possible matches of images of unknown suspects … any results are subsequently confirmed by additional investigative means.”

©2019 the Boston Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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