With the passage of Article 25 on December 11, the town of Brookline, Massachusetts, became the fifth municipality in the nation to ban its government agencies from using face surveillance.
Brookline joins nearby Somerville as the two Massachusetts municipalities to have banned face surveillance. The two Metro-Boston area municipalities have chosen to protect their residents now, rather than wait for the passage of state-level protections. Massachusetts is poised to become the first state in the nation to enact a state-level moratorium on all use of the technology. Brookline's State Senator Cynthia Stone Creem sponsored a bill (S.1385) that would impose a moratorium on government use of the technology throughout the commonwealth. That moratorium would remain in place until state lawmakers enact an authorizing statute that clearly outlines what agencies are permitted to use the technology, requires audits, protects civil liberties, and establishes minimum accuracy rates to prevent disparate impact against women, people with darker skin, and young people. Polling from the ACLU of Massachusetts has indicated high levels of support for the statewide moratorium, with 79 percent of likely Massachusetts voters voting in favor.
Pause Government Face Surveillance in Massachusetts
Face recognition technology can be used to identify or verify the identity of an individual using photos or videos. Government agencies can even conduct dragnet, real-time face surveillance of entire neighborhoods. Face recognition technology is also prone to error, implicating people for crimes they haven't committed. EFF has continually voiced concerns over the First and Fourth Amendment implications of government use of face surveillance.
Other lawmakers should take note. Governments should immediately stop their use of face surveillance in our communities. Even if manufacturers someday correct the technology's notable error rates—particularly for women and people with darker skin—government use of face surveillance will still threaten safety and privacy, amplify discrimination in our criminal justice system, and chill free speech.
Brookline's ban on face recognition is an essential step toward curtailing the government's use of biometric surveillance. EFF wants to help end government use of face surveillance in your community. To aid in that effort, we've partnered with community-based organizations in the Electronic Frontier Alliance—along with other concerned civil society organizations—in launching About Face. Our About Face campaign is a way for residents in communities throughout the United States to call for an end to government use of face surveillance. If your community-based group or hackerspace would like to join us in bringing an end to government use of face surveillance, consider adding your names to the petition and joining the Alliance.