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Cambridge Mayor Proposes Ban on City Use of Facial Recognition

The Cambridge, Mass., City Council is expected to consider a proposal from Mayor Marc McGovern and a couple of council members Tuesday (July 30) to amend a surveillance ordinance to ban use of facial recognition by the city.

Related: FFTF Calls for Ban on Government Use of Facial Recognition

In December of last year, the council passed the surveillance ordinance, which required the City Manager to get council approval before using biometric or facial recognition technology and databases. Now some want to rule out facial recognition altogether, saying it chills speech and discriminates.

"Notwithstanding this existing check on the City’s authority to acquire and use face recognition technology or data derived thereof, the potential threats to residents’ civil rights and civil liberties that are unique to face recognition technology warrant its outright ban," says the policy order, which is co-sponsored by Councillor Craig Kelley and Sumbul Siddiqui.

Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future,  which has been pushing for such bans locally and federally, said of the proposal: “Instead of asking why cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Somerville, and now Cambridge have taken such swift and decisive action to ban facial recognition technology, we should ask why other cities - and states, and the US government - aren’t also doing so." 

Two bills have also been introduced in the state legislature, one of which would declare a moratorium on facial recognition's use by the city, the other which would ban it.

If the Cambridge city council approves the ban, it would be the second Massachusetts city after Somerville to ban the technology, which has come under hefty criticism of late for racial and gender bias (the order cites a 2018 MIT/Microsoft study.

San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., have also banned the technology.