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Massachusetts Gov. Not Ready to Regulate Facial Recognition

Citing federal oversight of the technology, Gov. Charlie Baker said the state is not ready to pass legislation limiting its use. Lawmakers recently filed a bill that would place a moratorium on the tech for state agencies.

(TNS) — Gov. Charlie Baker indicated he is in no rush to regulate facial recognition technology at the state level, claiming federal controls, but concerned legislators and advocates say those federal rules don’t exist yet.

“My understanding is most of that’s regulated at this point at the federal level,” Baker told reporters Monday, following a Herald report on the spread of the technology and lack of controls. “Whether or not it should be regulated at the state level is something we’ve had conversations about, but they’re not to the point where we’d be ready to file legislation.”

Two lawmakers already have, however. Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) and state Rep. David Rogers (D- Cambridge) filed legislation in the House and Senate to halt the use of facial recognition software while the Legislature addresses adding regulations.

“To our knowledge, there is no federal statute regulating this technology,” Rogers told the Herald. “There is no broad general law at the federal level governing or regulating this technology. We are literally in a world where the technology has gotten ahead of the law and there is no comprehensive body of law governing this technology anywhere in the U.S. that I’m aware of.”

Creem added that facial recognition has “significant potential for government overreach and abuse.”

The state lawmakers’ sentiments mirror that of those in Congress. Creem pointed to two recent hearings in D.C. before the House Oversight Committee on the issue, saying that one of the major concerns voiced by members is that this technology is “totally unregulated.”

“My understanding is that there is currently no regulation of face surveillance technology at the federal level,” Creem said. “While I welcome comprehensive regulation at the federal level, Massachusetts residents deserve assurance that their government is not misusing this ever-advancing intrusive technology. This can only happen by pressing pause on its use and developing regulations that protect individual rights and freedoms.”

Law enforcement already taps the Registry of Motor Vehicle’s driver’s license database to help identify suspects through facial recognition, submitting 265 requests in 2018, 29 of which came from federal law enforcement agencies, according to Mass DOT.

“We’re not trying to ban this technology, we’re not trying to reverse it,” Rogers said, “We’re just saying, we’re citizens of a free society, we’re citizens of a democracy. What are some reasonable limits on how this technology is used? To me, that’s as American as apple pie.”

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