Somerville Becomes First East Coast City to Ban Government Use of Face Recognition Technology

Massachusetts City Joins Growing Nationwide Movement to Bring the Technology Under Democratic Control

June 28, 2019 10:30 am

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BOSTON — Somerville City Council in Massachusetts tonight unanimously voted to pass an ordinance banning city government use of face surveillance technology.

Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, released the following statement in response:

“Somerville is now the first community on the East Coast to prohibit government use of face recognition surveillance technology, joining a growing nationwide movement to bring the technology under democratic control. 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. Massachusetts must also lead the nation by passing a statewide moratorium until there are safeguards in place. We must ensure face surveillance technology doesn’t get out ahead of our basic rights.”

The Somerville ordinance, like San Francisco’s recent ban on government use of face surveillance and similar proposals currently under consideration in cities across the country, are part of the ACLU’s Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) effort. The CCOPS effort is designed to ensure residents — through their local governments and elected officials — are empowered to decide if and how surveillance technologies are used, and to promote government transparency with respect to surveillance technologies.

An ACLU-backed bill currently before Massachusetts legislators on Beacon Hill would establish a statewide moratorium on government use of face surveillance and other biometric screening technologies until the legislature imposes checks and balances to protect the public’s interest.

A new ACLU poll shows 91 percent (91%) of Massachusetts voters think the Commonwealth needs to regulate the government’s ongoing use of face surveillance technology. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of voters support a moratorium to press pause on government use of face surveillance technology, which is currently unregulated in Massachusetts.

The moratorium enjoys wide bipartisan voter support: Eighty-four percent (84%) of Democrats, 82 percent (82%) of Independents, and 50 percent (50%) of Republicans favor the moratorium currently before Massachusetts legislators.

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