ACLU urges lawmakers to ‘stand firm’ on facial recognition

BOSTON — Just hours after Gov. Charlie Baker proposed to strike limits on facial recognition software from a police accountability bill, the ACLU of Massachusetts urged legislators to “stand firm” and reject the governor’s amendment to the reform bill.

Baker on Thursday sent back to the Legislature a high-profile policing reform bill that would establish a new commission to license law enforcement officers in Massachusetts, and revoke that license if they discriminate or use excessive force against civilians.

One of the governor’s amendments would strip from the bill a section limiting the use of facial recognition systems to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and only allowing police to access those databases with a warrant or in life-threatening emergencies.

“Unfortunately, Governor Baker rejected a crucial due process provision that would protect Massachusetts residents from unregulated police use of face surveillance technology, which has been proven to unfairly target Black and brown people, leading to the arrest of innocent people. Unchecked police use of surveillance technology also harms everyone’s rights to anonymity, privacy, and free speech,” said ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose.

Baker supports a study of the use of facial recognition, but said without that study completed he still views the technology as an important tool that police have used to catch child rapists and accessories to murder.

“I’m not going to sign a bill into law that bans facial recognition...,” Baker told the News Service.

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