BOSTON — Law enforcement officers are moving to set stricter limits on the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement officers to track down suspects.
Tucked in a $164 million government bond bill, approved by the State House of Representatives last week, is a proposal that would limit and regulate law enforcement’s acquisition, possession and use of biometric surveillance technology, including facial recognition systems.
Under the changes, law enforcement officers will be required to warrant based on probable cause that a person has committed a crime for using technology to perform facial recognition searches.
It will also centralize the use of facial recognition systems – using technology only approved by the State Registry of State Motor Vehicles – by law enforcement under state police, and new data retention requirements to prevent misuse of images taken from the technology. determines.
The proposed changes are based on a report released by the 21-member state commission in March, calling for more likely reasons for obtaining warrants for limiting the use of facial recognition by local police departments and using the technology to monitor suspects. is needed.
The proposal’s primary sponsor, Representative Michael Day, D-Stoneham, said the changes balance the need to set limits on the technology’s use with its potential benefits to protect public safety.
“These protections, if adopted by the Legislature, would establish appropriate guidelines and restrictions on law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology, while acknowledging the potential benefits and real benefits of improving facial recognition technology for public safety.” ,” Day said.
Facial recognition is supposed to be a quick, reliable way to identify someone from a surveillance system. Law enforcement says the technology makes it easier to obtain information about suspects and threats than other biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints, which require proximity and contact to obtain.
Each face has some 80 unique “nodal points” – in the eyes, nose, cheeks and mouth – that differentiate one person from another. Facial recognition software matches previous images to real-time images by comparing points and other features similar to the way fingerprints are analyzed.
The US Department of Homeland Security scans the faces of foreign travelers at many of the country’s largest airports, and it plans to expand its surveillance to every passenger flying overseas.
According to a 2016 Georgetown Law School study, more than 117 million Americans can be found in the vast facial recognition database used by law enforcement.
Civil liberties groups say the technology contributes to racial stereotypes and the invasion of privacy, and say there needs to be more restrictions on its use.
Cade Crockford, the Technology for Liberty program director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, welcomed Beacon Hill’s push to set limits on the use of technology by law enforcement. She said the change – if also approved by the state Senate – would “appropriately balance public safety and civil liberties.”
A comprehensive police reform bill, signed into law in December 2020, bars most state and local government agencies from using the technology. But the law also requires that facial recognition systems be studied to better understand their capabilities, as well as concerns about privacy and racial profiling.
The police reform law was intended to expand civilian surveillance of law enforcement following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
But civil liberties groups say the changes were not enough to protect privacy rights and prevent facial recognition technology from being unfairly used to target minorities.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for Answers to Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]