Springfield, Mass., Considers Police Facial Recognition Rule

City councilors in Springfield are still considering instituting a new moratorium, but probably not an outright ban, on police using facial recognition technology once they get body cameras.

by Jim Kinney, The Republican / October 22, 2019
Shutterstock/vchal

(TNS) — City councilors in Springfield, Mass., are still considering a moratorium, but probably not an outright ban, on police using facial recognition technology once they get body cameras.

Councilor Orlando Ramos said at Monday night’s meeting that councilors are working with Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood, discussing the Police Department’s potential need for the technology and the council’s concerns about it.

Ramos cited an American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts study released earlier Monday that used photos of Boston Red Sox and Celtics players to demonstrate limitations of Amazon Rekognition software. The ACLU fed photos of 188 New England athletes into the system and it misidentified 28, matching them to mugshots in the arrest photo database.

Ramos said the study is convincing evidence that the technology is not mature enough to be deployed by police and that it has potential to cast suspicion on innocent men and women.

The council had been considering a flat ban. But Ramos said, after consultation with Claprood, it’s now more likely to be a moratorium with a sunset date.

Councilors cited studies like one by MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini that found black women were 35% more likely than white men to be misidentified by the artificial intelligence technology. Facial recognition programs often mislabel black women as men and falsely assess black men as being aggressive.

The technology just doesn’t do well with nonwhite faces, critics including the ACLU say, leading to false positives and real danger for blacks, Hispanics and others.

The ACLU both nationally and in Massachusetts opposes the use of facial recognition technology. An ACLU-backed bill pending in the Massachusetts legislature would put a moratorium on the use of facial-recognition technology statewide. Lawmakers have set a hearing on the bill Tuesday in Boston.

Salem has already banned the use of facial recognition by that city’s government, and Brookline is considering a ban.

Springfield plans to have its 500 police officers trained and equipped with body cameras sometime in 2020.

©2019 The Republican, Springfield, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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