The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts is calling for legislative protection against what they say is unfettered "face surveillance" in the state.
Facial recognition software is flawed, inherently biased, and poses serious risks to civil liberties, said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts of the ACLU. It has been implemented without people's consent or any external oversight, she added.
“Unfortunately, in this case like with too many kinds of digital surveillance technology, government agencies simply have gone ahead and implemented these systems without any kind of legislative authorization, with no checks and balances, with no judicial oversight or external accountability measures,” Crockford said in an interview with Boston Public Radio on Tuesday.
Facial recognition software can be used to identify an unknown face, when patched into a database, which has obvious law enforcement benefits, but Crockford warned against leaning on that potential use of the technology.
Take for example an authoritarian dictator, said Crockford, who could use facial recognition software to track a dissident journalist.
"This type of surveillance enables a kind of totalizing, omnipresent view for government agencies of not one person's every movement and association in public space, but every persons. And not on one day, but on all days, and merely with the push of a button," she said. "So it really is drastically different from all other types of surveillance we've seen in the past."
The moratorium would stop government agencies from using facial recognition technology until "robust debate and strong regulation to safeguard our most basic liberties" are in place, according to the ACLU.
“If we didn’t have the fourth amendment, it’d be a lot easier for police to solve crimes. If they didn’t have to go to a judge and show probable cause to get a warrant and come inside your personal space and [rifle] through your things," she said. "Of course that would make it easier for police to do their job, but we’ve decided as a free society that we think there ought to be sensible limits about what the government is able to do, and what we’re trying to do is press pause on the use of technology that is entirely unregulated and not ready for prime time.”
Somerville has made moves to be the second city in the country to ban law enforcement and other agencies from using facial recognition software, after San Francisco.
Crockford is Director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts and MIT Media Lab Director's Fellow.