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What One City Hopes to Learn by Pausing Use of Facial Recognition Technology

The Baltimore City Council recently approved legislation that effectively halts the use of facial recognition technology by residents, businesses, and city agencies. The ban is temporary and would be reviewed in the future to reassess whether the technology can be reintroduced into Baltimore. The legislation is expected to be signed by the major. If the legislation is adopted, city lawmakers aim to protect residents’ privacy and foster a conversation about policing and public safety to take a more well-rounded approach. Baltimore City council member Kristerfer Burnett stated that due to the nature of violence in Baltimore, there is a mindset that more surveillance will make the city safer. However, Burnett argues that this is not always true.

Baltimore has reported more than 300 homicides every year for the past five years. The city has been under heavy surveillance protocols before, namely after Freddie Gray died in Baltimore after sustaining a fatal injury in the back of a police van. At this time, the FBI deployed aerial surveillance to monitor protests and maintain public safety. For the past several years, law enforcement officials have sought to deploy facial recognition technology. However, recent research on the tech has raised serious concern over how racial and gender bias in the algorithms can lead to misidentification, discrimination, and potential danger. Other states and cities have enacted bans or restrictions on the use of facial recognition technology, however, Baltimore’s mandate is unique in that it excludes the city police department from the mandate.

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