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Brookline Weighs Facial Recognition Restrictions


Brookline Town Meeting member Amy Hummel proposed a ban on government use of facial surveillance software, making Brookline the third municipality in Massachusetts to consider restrictions on the emerging technology.

Hummel said she expects the proposed bylaw will be considered by other town meeting members in the fall.

“There are very few legal protections in the country,” Hummel said, referring to laws regulating facial surveillance. “The technology changes and grows so quickly that it’s out in the world long before individuals and legislators can completely understand it.”

Somerville’s city council passed an ordinance in June banning city use of the facial recognition software, becoming the second known U.S. city to do so. The first was San Francisco.

Cambridge’s city councilors are considering a similar proposal.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts, which helped draft Somerville’s ordinance, issued a statement applauding the Brookline proposal.

“People should be able to walk around Brookline without worrying that government agencies are keeping tabs on their every movement,” said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The ACLU of Massachusetts is pushing for a state moratorium on government use of facial recognition software. They also backed legislation by state Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. David Rogers that calls for regulations on the technology.

“For too long, face surveillance technology has gone unregulated, posing a serious threat to our basic civil rights and civil liberties,” Crockford said. “In the absence of state or national action, municipal governments have taken the first steps towards sensible policy.”