House bill would ban facial recognition technology in Michigan

click to enlarge House bill would ban facial recognition technology in Michigan

Michigan could become the first state to ban facial recognition technology.

State Rep. Isaac Robinson, D-Detroit, introduced a House bill Wednesday that would place a five-year moratorium on the controversial technology. The idea is to give lawmakers and experts time to research the technology's flaws and whether it is unconstitutional.

"There needs to be a discussion on where the limits are and how the technology is used," Robinson tells the Metro Times. "We need to discuss civil liberties and make sure local governments aren't overreaching."

The legislation follows a Metro Times report that revealed the Detroit Police Department has been using a sophisticated facial recognition system for two years without approval from the city’s Board of Police Commissioners.

click to enlarge Rep. Isaac Robinson
Rep. Isaac Robinson
Last week, the commission tabled a vote on approving the system following mounting criticism from residents.

Robinson cited numerous studies that show the system is racially biased. Researchers have found that the technology is more likely to produce false matches on people with darker pigment.

“Research has already shown that facial recognition technology has significant difficulty identifying and recognizing African-American faces, leading to an unacceptable bias against these communities across the nation,” Robinson said. “Having one of the largest African-American populations in the country, Detroit is no exception. It is completely unconscionable to ask our families to sacrifice our freedoms for a policy that has the potential to put so many residents at risk. My bill will combat this by preventing law enforcement from using inherently flawed facial recognition software to analyze and identify people.”

Robinson also echoed concerns by legal experts who say the technology is invasive and may violate people’s Fourth Amendment rights.

“We must reverse the dangerous trend of using technology that intrudes on our privacy and violates our Fourth Amendment rights,” Robinson said.

The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Sheri Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit, and Jewell Jones, D-Inkster.

Some states have restricted facial recognition technology, but none has approved a total ban. Massachusetts and Washington have proposed bans similar to Michigan's legislation. Congress also is considering a moratorium.

Several cities, including San Francisco, have banned the technology this year.

With no public input, Detroit has used one of the nation's most pervasive facial recognition systems. The city's $1-million face-scanning system enables police to identify and track residents captured on hundreds of private and public high-definition cameras installed at parks, schools, immigration centers, gas stations, churches, abortion clinics, hotels, apartments, fast-food restaurants, and addiction treatment centers.

The city's reach has expanded through Project Green Light, an initiative that placed high-tech surveillance cameras at more than 500 locations.

Police also can identify people at any time using databases containing hundreds of thousands of photos, including mug shots, driver's licenses, and images scraped from social media.

Detroit police defended the technology, saying it's only used to track down suspects after a crime is committed.

Neither Mayor Mike Duggan nor the police department would comment for this story.

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