Massachusetts bill banning public agencies from using facial recognition returned by state governor

In early December 2020, legislators in the state of Massachusetts, USA adopted a bill which would have made it unlawful for law enforcement and other public agencies to acquire, possess, access, use, assist with the use of, or provide resources for the development or use of biometric surveillance systems (in the absence of an express authorisation or a special law to the contrary). The bill defines a biometric surveillance system as any computer software that performs facial recognition or other remote biometric recognition. An exception was provided for the use of facial recognition technology by the registrar of motor vehicles to verify an individual’s identity when issuing licenses, permits, or other documents, and to perform searches of its facial recognition database at the request of law enforcement agencies made pursuant to a warrant or in an emergency situation. The bill, however, was returned to the legislature by the Governor of Massachusetts, who proposed amendments that would completely eliminate the envisioned limitations. According to the governor, ‘restrictions on the technology, with only significantly limited exceptions for law enforcement, ignores the important role it can play in solving crime’ and ‘fail to balance legitimate oversight of policing with the necessary work of solving crime and keeping the public safe’. The bill is to be reviewed again in the State Senate. Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has launched a campaign calling on legislators to restore the initial provisions in the bill.