Springfield Mayor Threatens Veto of Facial Recognition Ban

Springfield, Mass., Mayor Domenic J. Sarno has been a vocal supporter of the emerging technology for law enforcement purposes, even threatening to squash an ordinance aimed at restricting its use.

by Douglas Hook, MassLive.com / October 9, 2019
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(TNS) — Springfield City Councilors, Orlando Ramos and Adam Gomez and other officials met at City Hall to further discuss restricting the use of facial recognition technology in Springfield.

"We're concerned because it might work only 30% of the time," said Gomez. "There was research done by MIT [that showed] black women are 35% more likely to be misclassified."

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno has come out in support of the technology and sees it as a valuable tool in fighting serious crime according to a statement released in August.

"Public safety has always been my number one priority and always will be. Any tool that can be helpful to our war on crime, we certainly should take advantage of," Sarno said in a statement in August. "If Councilor Ramos and the City Council do pursue this ordinance, in the name of public safety, I will veto it."

It's the cities duty is to protect residents and particularly the more vulnerable, said Gomez, who has reservations about the use in countries like the U.K.

In May the BBC reported that facial recognition software's ability to recognize black and minority faces has become a concern for those worried about the technology which could mean black and minority ethnic people could be falsely identified.

Ramos said previously that there are "very serious privacy and accuracy concerns associated with facial recognition technology" -- but Sarno said he questions why councilors would bar police from using technology that could be both an investigative tool and a crime deterrent.

Although not completely against this technology, Gomez feels it needs to be more reliable and wants to ensure the public is safe.

"[We're] trying to avoid issues," said Gomez. "We just want to make sure [facial recognition] is much better."

This has been an issue for not just Springfield but other cities across the state with the American Civil Liberties Union releasing a letter to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, expressing its concerns over the use of facial recognition surveillance in schools as well as worries from Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

"This technology is untested, biased and would only criminalize vulnerable communities and result in greater surveillance and racial profiling," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who joined elected officials from Somerville and Cambridge on Aug. 28 at a community event about facial recognition.

"We do not currently use facial recognition technology, but it is incredibly short-sighted to dismiss its use in the future," said Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood. "Facial recognition technology will have lawful, legitimate purposes to both prevent and solve crimes. We shouldn't sell ourselves short."

©2019 MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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