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Somerville Bans Government Use Of Facial Recognition Tech

A security camera in the Financial District of San Francisco (Eric Risberg/AP)
A security camera in the Financial District of San Francisco (Eric Risberg/AP)

With a city council vote on Thursday night, Somerville became the first community on the East Coast to ban government use of face surveillance technology.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which wants a statewide moratorium on government use of facial recognition technology, cheered the ban, which mirrors one in place in San Francisco.

"The city is sending a bold statement that it won't sit by idly while the dystopian technology further outpaces our civil liberties protections and harms privacy, racial and gender justice, and freedom of speech," Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU's Technology for Liberty Program, said in a statement. "Massachusetts must also lead the nation by passing a statewide moratorium until there are safeguards in place."

Asked during a WGBH-FM radio interview Friday about the Somerville vote and facial recognition technology, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said he doesn't "think facial recognition is where it needs to be at this time."

"In my opinion, not saying anything disparaging, I think we need to know more about it, and for me as a police commissioner, I think that it has to be 100% effective for me to buy into facial recognition," he said.

The ACLU this month released poll results that found 79% of Massachusetts voters would support a moratorium, and that 91% think it's important to regulate government use of face recognition technology.

Sen. Cindy Creem and Rep. David Rogers have filed bills that would impose a moratorium on government use of face recognition and other biometric surveillance within the state until the Legislature passed a law regulating how and by whom the technology could be used. Rogers' bill (H.1538) is before the Judiciary Committee and Creem's (S.1385) is before the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.

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