City Council Members Urge Passage Of Surveillance Technology Ban

Several city council members, along with progressive city groups, gathered outside City Hall Thursday to demand the passage of Councilor Kristerfer Burnett’s second attempt to ban the use of facial recognition technology by the Baltimore City government.

“Until we fully understand the full impact facial recognition technology has on our communities, we must act responsibly and hit the pause button on its use in Baltimore City,” Burnett said at a news conference. “We have seen the impact of misidentification and technological prejudice on people across the country and we must act now to prevent potential harm to our residents.”

Ralikh Hayes, associate director of Organizing Black, said the bill was an important first step in breaking down the surveillance black communities face. He said the city should invest in technology that studies show produce inaccurate results and redeploy those funds on “things we know work,” like SafeStreets and mental health services.

“We need to realign our priorities and find out what security really means,” said Hayes. “I hope that this council will have in-depth discussions on reforming public safety.”

Burnett’s bill would prohibit non-police city authorities from using the technology that uses artificial intelligence to analyze faces by matching images from databases such as mug shots or driver’s license photos. Several studies have found that these algorithms are more likely to misidentify people of color than white people.

The Baltimore Police Department, which opposes the bill, is controlled by the state, not the city, which means the council does not have the power to completely ban the agency from using the bill, despite the bill’s annual audits of its Can force use. The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill during its last session that would allow city residents to vote on whether to return control of the ministry to the city in either 2022 or 2024.

BPD, in partnership with the Department of Transportation, uses the Maryland Image Repository System, software that compares images of unidentified suspects in an investigation with FBI mug shots from the state and FBI and vehicle records. The software is maintained by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

A Report published last fall by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that the AI ​​algorithms are best at correctly identifying middle-aged white men, but have higher rates of false positives among Asian, black, and native people. A Report 2018 from MIT found that some algorithms misidentified black women nearly 35% of the time, while almost always correctly identified white men.

These results have a serious impact on People of Color, Joy Buolamwini, one of the authors of the MIT report, said the council at a hearing last year. She pointed to a Detroit man wrongly arrested for robbery after being misidentified by facial recognition software from a grainy video of a robbery.

“In one test, I ran on Amazon’s AI [facial recognition algorithm,] They found Oprah Winfrey’s male face, ”said Buolamwini, a black woman. “Personally, I had to wear a white mask to reveal my face.”

Burnett’s attempt to pass a similar bill during the last term of the council failed. He introduced this iteration last year, but the Public Safety and Government Operations Committee only approved it last week.

The progressive Democrat was joined on Thursday by Councilors Zeke Cohen, Ryan Dorsey and Odette Ramos, as well as members of Organizing Black, CASA de Maryland and the Baltimore Teachers Union.

CASA representatives discussed the potential of facial recognition technology for immigrants. Diana, a Baltimore woman who immigrated to the city eight years ago and identified only by her first name, said city hall should invest in programs that benefit immigrants, and not potentially harm them.

“We have witnessed the big mistakes some police officers have made regarding the immigrant community and we cannot allow this technology to continue,” she said through an interpreter. “I’m here today raising my voice for my family and my community.”

In a letter to the Public Safety Committee and Government Operations, officials from BPD and the fraternal order of the city’s police force said that a total ban on technology would remove a “valuable tool in the fight against violent crime” that is a single aspect of the investigation.

“Positive identification with facial recognition alone is not enough to generate a likely reason for arrest, let alone prove an unequivocal case for conviction,” said Sgt. Bobby Cherry and Detective Eric Perez, FOP Legislative Committee Chairs, wrote.

The bill can be submitted to the city council as early as next week’s session; the agenda for this meeting has not yet been set.

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