A divided Commonwealth commission in Massachusetts recommended that law enforcement limit the use of facial recognition systems to “limited and tightly regulated circumstances to advance legitimate criminal investigations.”
Limited could be a matter of opinion.
The commissioners recommended that no use of emotional recognition, tracking or monitoring be allowed as these fields have “low reliability”. But the Massachusetts State Police would still have more leeway than some privacy advocates would like.
At the same time, the special committee reportsent to the legislature, “expressed marked concern” about the use of facial recognition by other government functions such as education and airport security.
As the special commission was tasked with assessing the use of facial recognition by the Commonwealth government in general, members wrote that they believe the use of law enforcement is a ‘threshold issue’ requiring their full attention. They strongly recommended further investigation into the deployment elsewhere in government.
Just this month, the authors of a civil liberties report alleging police use of facial recognition in the Commonwealth over the past two years have seen too little government oversight and too much influence from industry. It is unclear to what extent, if any, the new recommendations would address these concerns.
The report makes 13 recommendations to legislators. According to the recommendations, the Massachusetts State Police would have the most unrestricted power. Only this agency would be able to search databases of facial biometrics. They could also ask the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Even so, the panel recommended that any use of facial recognition systems only involve an unidentified person, captured in a still or video image, who is suspected of involvement in a crime as set out in the mandate of a judge.
Officers facing situations involving immediate danger of death or serious injury might ignore the warrant, but should follow up with a report explaining why the exception was made.
States, like many in the Commonwealth call troopers, would be restricted to using existing apps or new software approved by the Office of Technology and Security Services, and only after a public hearing on the proposed deployment. .
A State Patrol Office for Facial Recognition Operations should be created to standardize policies and procedures, hoping that the use of technology will be more transparent and reliable for citizens.
The commission advised lawmakers to also require police to tell someone after they have been charged with a crime that biometric data was used in the investigation that led to charges against them. Suspects would have the right to challenge the identification and possibly have that identification removed from court records.
Panelists recommended that every use of technology be collected in a quarterly report and submitted to the Commonwealth Public Safety Executive Office. This office should publish an annual data accounting.
They also suggest an update to the Massachusetts Police Reform Act, which establishes standards and regulations for features such as the use of facial biometrics.
Police departments (other than state troopers) and individual agents should be prohibited “from acquiring, possessing, accessing, using, assisting with systems.”
Nor should anyone be allowed to develop or help develop a system, the commissioners say. They should not be allowed to ask any third party – not even the federal government – to obtain, access or use facial recognition without express legal permission.
Public officials should not use data captured by facial biometrics systems, even if found in legislative, judicial and administrative proceedings.
A number of US states have taken steps to regulate facial recognition in the absence of long-awaited federal regulation.
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