More Cities Resist Facial Recognition Systems

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Police departments around the U.S. are asking citizens to trust them to use facial recognition software as another tool in their crime-fighting toolbox. Some lawmakers — and even some technology giants — are hitting the brakes, the Associated Press reports. Are fears of an all-seeing, artificially intelligent security apparatus overblown? In China, advancements in computer vision applied to networks of street cameras have enabled authorities to track members of ethnic minority groups for signs of subversive behavior. U.S. police officials and video surveillance industry partners contend that won’t happen here. They are pushing back against a movement by cities, states and federal legislators to ban or curtail the technology’s use. The efforts aren’t confined to bastions of liberal activism that enacted bans this year: San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and the Boston suburbs of Somerville and Brookline.

In Springfield, in western Massachusetts, a former manufacturing hub where a majority of 155,000 residents are Latino or black, police brutality and misconduct lawsuits have cost the city millions of dollars. Springfield police have no plans to deploy facial recognition systems, but some city councilors are moving to block future government use of the technology anyway. “I’m a black woman and I’m dark,” a Springfield councilor, Tracye Whitfield, told the Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood, who is white. “I cannot approve something that’s going to target me more than it will target you.” Similar debates across the U.S. are highlighting racial concerns and dueling interpretations of the technology’s accuracy. “I wish our leadership would look at the science and not at the hysteria,” said Lancaster, Ca., Mayor R. Rex Parris, whose city is working to install 10,000 streetlight cameras Parris says could monitor pedophiles and gang members. “There are ways to build in safeguards.” Research suggests that facial recognition systems can be accurate under ideal conditions.

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