Minneapolis City Council member wants facial recognition banned, says it ‘exacerbates bias’

The basis for the ban is that facial recognition technology “has been shown to be less accurate in identifying people of color and women,” according to the amendment.

Steve Fletcher / minneapolismn.gov

Minneapolis City Council member Steve Fletcher wrote an amendment to the city’s code of ordinances that would ban facial recognition technology in the police department and all city departments.

The basis for the ban is that facial recognition technology “has been shown to be less accurate in identifying people of color and women,” according to the amendment.

Fletcher said in an email that he authored the amendment because technology like this “could greatly exacerbate bias and inequity in our criminal justice system.” Research suggests that facial recognition is less accurate in identifying people of color, young people, and women, he added.

The amendment cites surveillance of “communities of color” as another reason facial recognition should be outlawed, saying facial recognition surveillance “would further disproportionately harm communities that historically have faced elevated levels of policing and harassment.”

Fletcher’s amendment also claims that facial recognition technology infringes on Minneapolis’s Data Privacy Principles by collecting data “without transparency.”

“The City’s use of facial recognition technology to surveil public places would be
uniquely intrusive to all who live in, work in, or visit the City, and would harm the public trust in City government,” states the amendment.

Freedom of speech, it is proposed, is also breached by facial recognition surveillance: “Use of facial recognition technology to surveil public places has the potential to chill the exercise of free speech in those public places.”

Fletcher’s amendment was crafted with the help of the ACLU and a handful of other progressive organizations, which have created a website to promote the agenda. The website claims that law enforcement’s “use of facial recognition poses a profound threat to personal privacy, political and religious expression, and the fundamental freedom to go about our lives without having our movements and associations covertly monitored and analyzed.”

“A long history of misuse and abuse” is attributed to facial recognition technology, particularly regarding racial bias, according to the website.

“A lot of the databases that are searching in facial recognition are from data that is itself reflective of racial bias in our justice system. So you’re more likely to have your picture in there because you come from a community that’s been over-policed previously,” Fletcher said during an October town hall on the topic.

“In just about anything else the city was buying, if a vendor came to sell us our phone system for our offices and said, ‘this works great for white people. Our phone is awesome for white folks, but it doesn’t actually work for black people very consistently,’ we would not buy those phones. We would say that technology is not right,” he added.

Fletcher’s amendment will be addressed at a public hearing and voted on by the Policy and Government Oversight Committee on Feb. 10. It passed the Public Health and Safety Committee last week and is expected to be voted on by the full City Council Feb. 12, according to a public feedback session hosted Tuesday night.

“If this does not work for everybody, this does not work,” Fletcher said during that session.

Minneapolis would join Portland, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco and a growing number of cities in banning the technology.