Boston joined cities like San Francisco, Oakland, California, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Wednesday in passing a vote to ban facial recognition technology for municipal use. It's the second largest city in the US to ban facial recognition, after San Francisco enacted its ban in May 2019.
The ordinance passed unanimously and will prevent the capital city from using facial recognition technology or obtaining software for conducting surveillance using the technology.
"Boston should not be using racially discriminatory technology and technology that threatens our basic rights," City Councilor Michelle Wu said at the hearing on Wednesday.
The ordinance comes with exceptions, like allowing city employees to use facial recognition for authentication purposes such as unlocking their own devices. City officials can also use facial recognition technology for automatically redacting faces in images. But they can't use it for identifying people.
The vote came from City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who sponsored the bill with Wu. The decision on Wednesday makes Boston the largest city on the East Coast to ban facial recognition.
Overall, it prevents the city of Boston from using facial recognition or obtaining information from a facial recognition system, or hiring a third party that can use facial recognition on the city's behalf.
The ban comes after nationwide calls for police reform and limits on surveillance technology like facial recognition. Cities like New York have passed legislation to disclose the NYPD's surveillance tools, while companies like Amazon and IBM have announced moratoriums on selling facial recognition to police departments.
"This is a crucial victory for our privacy rights and for people like Robert Williams, who have been arrested for crimes they did not commit because of a technology law enforcement shouldn't be using," said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts."Lawmakers nationwide should follow suit and immediately stop law enforcement use of this technology. This surveillance technology is dangerous when right, and dangerous when wrong."
Boston's police department doesn't currently use facial recognition, but Wednesday's vote ensures that it can't use the technology in the near future.
"Facial recognition is inherently dangerous and inherently oppressive. It cannot be reformed or regulated. It must be abolished," said Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future. "Boston just became the latest major city to stop the use of this extraordinary and toxic surveillance technology. Every other city should follow suit."