Minneapolis bans facial recognition tech purchases over privacy concerns

Facial-recognition tech creates service, security options
Minneapolis banned the city's purchase of facial recognition technology, following a trend in other cities. Residents were worried about invasion of privacy while some fear the technology is not as reliable with people of color. (Shutterstock)

Minneapolis joined a growing list of cities to ban the purchase and use of facial recognition technology and data derived from it, citing strong concerns from the community over surveillance.

Boston, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco and dozens of other cities have either banned or limited the use of the technology.

The decision came after the city and much of the world were rocked by the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, while under arrest by Minneapolis police officers. The killing launched months of protests across the country and raised attention to the Black Lives Matter movement seeking racial justice and police reforms.

The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously on Friday to prohibit the city from procurement of facial recognition technology relying on an ordinance authored by Council Member Steve Fletcher. “We have heard strong concerns from the community about technology that invades their privacy without their consent, and we need to regulate it,” he said in a statement.

“Facial recognition technology works pretty well if you look like me—a middle-aged white man—but for everyone else, it can fail at rates we would not accept anywhere else,” Fletcher added. “It is unacceptable for us to subject people in our city—particularly women of color—to such a high level of risk.”

Minneapolis also has adopted data privacy principles to consider and value the privacy of individuals any time their personal data is collected, including collecting the data when there is a reason to do so and being transparent about what is being collected and why.

The Minneapolis Police Department is the only known city department to use facial recognition technology, according to the Star Tribune. The new ban prevents MPD from going through a third party like Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office to buy facial recognition technology as it has in the past.

City Police Chief Medaria Arrandondo said the ban was approved without any feedback from him. He called the technology an “important technology tool” and said it could be used in accordance with data privacy.

Cities have adopted similar policies that vary in their reach. Portland, Oregon, has barred law enforcement use as well as private businesses from collecting, using and storing all biometric information collected about people in public spaces.

Provisions attacking facial recognition tech have failed in several states, including Massachusetts, where the governor vetoed a police reform bill because of a provision banning law enforcement use of the tech.

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