Boston city government bans facial recognition technology

Boston city government bans facial recognition technology
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Boston City Council on Wednesday unanimously voted to ban city government from using facial recognition technology.

The new ordinance comes amid refocused scrutiny on facial recognition driven by anti-police brutality protests following the death of George Floyd. The law makes it illegal for city officials to "obtain, retain, possess, access, or use" the controversial software.

Boston is the sixth city in Massachusetts to ban government use of facial recognition, and the largest on the East Coast to do so.


San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., have both passed similar bans.

Boston's ordinance points to racial and gender biases that plague the technology.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency within the Commerce Department, released an expansive study in December that found that the majority of facial recognition systems have “demographic differentials” that can worsen their accuracy based on a person’s age, gender or race. 

The backlash to facial recognition has pressured tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft and IBM to scale back their sales of the software to law enforcement at the state and local level in recent weeks.
Critics of the companies' moves have questioned though whether those steps are just convenient PR tactics.