Massachusetts lawmakers are currently considering imposing limitations on law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology, an emerging technology that has been heavily criticized by civil rights activists for disproportionately misidentifying people of color. Several cities in the state, including Boston and Springfield, have already banned the use of this technology locally.
During a hearing on the proposals, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary received hours of testimony. State Sen. Cynthia Creem, who is sponsoring one of the bills, emphasized the potential dangers of facial recognition technology in facilitating government surveillance and its track record of misidentifying individuals in criminal investigations. Her bill would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using facial recognition on an unidentified suspect, and then inform criminal defendants they were identified through the software, with exceptions for emergency situations.
The proposed legislation also includes provisions to centralize Massachusetts police departments’ use of facial recognition technology within a special State Police unit. These recommendations originate from the state’s Special Commission on Facial Recognition Technology, established as part of the 2020 police reform law. Similar legislation was approved by the House last year, but the state Senate did not take it up before the session ended.
Kade Crockford, the director of the Technology for Liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, expressed the importance of enacting these recommendations into law and cited other states, such as Montana and Maine, that have passed facial recognition laws in the years since the Massachusetts proposals first emerged.