Baltimore may soon ban facial recognition from everyone except cops

After years of lack try to pavement monitoring technologies, Baltimore is set to enact one of the country’s toughest bans on facial recognition. But the ban proposed by Baltimore would be very different from laws in San Francisco or Portland, Oregon: it would only last a year, police would be exempt, and some private uses of the technology would become illegal.

City council member Kristerfer Burnett, who introduced the proposed ban, says it was shaped by nuances of Baltimore, though critics complain it could unfairly penalize, or even jail, private citizens who use the technology.

Last year, Burnett introduced a version of the bill that would have permanently banned the city’s use of facial recognition. When that failed, he instead introduced this version, with a built-in one-year “sunset” clause requiring board approval to be extended. At the beginning of June, the city council voted in its favor 12-2; it is now awaiting the signature of Mayor Brandon Scott.

“It was important to start this conversation over the next year to determine what a regulatory framework might look like,” Burnett said.

The bill would establish a working group to produce regular reports on the purchase of newly acquired surveillance tools, describing both their cost and effectiveness. Cities like New York and Pittsburgh have created similar working groups, but they were ridiculed as “waste” because members lack resources or executive power.

Burnett says the reports are crucial because in a year the political landscape in Baltimore could be very different.

Since 1860, the Baltimore Police Department has been largely state controlled, not the city. The city council and the mayor appoint the police commissioner and set the department’s budget, but the city council does not have the power to prohibit the use of facial recognition by the police.

However, residents of Baltimore will have the opportunity to vote on the return of the police service to city control as early as next year. Mayor Scott himself supported this change during his tenure as municipal councilor. The local control measure could appear on ballots when the one-year ban expires, when Burnett and other privacy advocates benefit from a year-long study into the effects of a ban.

The conversation about the police returning to city control resumed after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 while in police custody. Then-mayor Catherine Pugh created a task force to offer suggestions on police reform; in 2018, the working group published a report warning that “BPD will never be fully accountable to its residents until full control of the department is returned to the city.” “

The revelations used by the police to restore local control add to the pressure to restore local control. social media watch software and facial recognition watch the protesters after Gray’s death. Burnett says the city needs to consider the appropriate uses of monitoring tools “before arriving at a space where [surveillance] is so ubiquitous that it becomes much more difficult to disentangle. In contrast, he says, the government is generally “much more responsive.”

Critics say the proposed ban is an example of overbreadth. The police department and the city’s Fraternal Police Order oppose the measure. A police spokesperson referred WIRED to the department’s letter to city council, in which it wrote that “rather than a ban on acquiring any new facial recognition technology, it would be more prudent to establish safeguards.” .

Professional groups have also spoken out against the bill, in particular the provisions regarding the private use of facial recognition. As written, the bill not only fines offenders, it qualifies the violation as a criminal offense, punishable by up to 12 months in prison. It goes further than a Portland’s law banning private use of facial recognition, making offenders liable for damages and attorney fees.

Groups like the Security Industry Association have argued that it could criminalize private business owners for, for example, requiring facial verification to enter facilities, or even schools for requiring online surveillance that uses technology. City Councilor Isaac Schleifer cited potential criminalization as a major concern in his “no” vote on the measure.

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