Senate bill would ban surveillance tech

Howard Lipin/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNSA Chula Vista police officer uses a computer tablet equipped with facial recognition software to photograph a person while on patrol.

ALBANY — As more reports have highlighted controversies involving law enforcement use of facial recognition technology, the state Legislature has a bill on its agenda to ban the practice in New York.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-27, introduced on Monday a bill that would ban any law enforcement agency or member from acquiring, accessing or installing biometric surveillance technology to be used for their jobs — though it would allow for the ongoing use of existent biometric practices, such as fingerprints.

“In the wrong hands, this technology presents a chilling threat to our privacy and civil liberties — especially when evidence shows this technology is less accurate when used on people of color, and transgender, non-binary and non-conforming people,” Hoylman said in a statement.

The senator is joining many elected officials across the country, on both state and federal levels, who have been calling for regulation of the use of this technology for privacy and discriminatory concerns.

A 2018 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab found the top three facial recognition tools were incorrect up to 35% of the time when identifying darker-skinned women. When identifying white men, on the other hand, all three companies had error rates below 1%.

“Facial recognition technology and other forms of biometric surveillance are inaccurate, pervasive, easily abused, and a direct threat to New Yorkers’ privacy and civil liberties,” Jerome Greco, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said in a statement. “Our clients and other underserved communities have long suffered from the harmful effects of surveillance.”

A recent published report found the use of just one facial recognition company, Clearview AI, is widespread. More than 600 law enforcement agencies began using it in the past year, according to the company.

The widespread use of multiple companies’ facial recognition technology is disconcerting, especially to minority communities and activists, since these communities are disproportionately monitored by law enforcement. More efficient technology would increase the disparity, advocates worry.

The New York Police Department has settled multiple lawsuits filed on behalf of the city’s Muslim community over its post-9/11 surveillance practices, including monitoring businesses in Muslim neighborhoods and placing informants in mosques. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also has been tracking Black Lives Matter activists, reports have shown.

“If you name a prominent civil rights leader of the 20th or 21st centuries, chances are strong that he or she was surveilled in the name of national security,” Alvaro Bedoya, founder of Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology, wrote in 2016.

Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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