This week, the Massachusetts House and Senate passed landmark omnibus police reform legislation in Bill S.2963. This was the result of hard work between the grassroots and their elected officials finally doing the work of the people to bring about much-needed reform and racial justice.
However, during the floor debates this week, Republican legislators voiced strong opposition to Section 26 of the bill, misrepresenting it and arguing that it shouldn't be included in a police reform bill meant to address racial injustice. Section 26 features some of the strongest language in the country on the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement.
Republican opposition in the legislature may be a sign that Gov. Charlie Baker - a Republican - may be considering amending or even striking Section 26 from the bill.
That cannot happen.
This section is too important to the stated goal of achieving racial justice. We need you to email and/or tweet at Gov. Baker and urge him to sign the bill as passed and NOT to strike or amend Section 26.
We know facial recognition technology is notorious for disproportionately profiling people of color - something that can't be overlooked when considering the stated racial justice outcomes this bill seeks to achieve.
Section 26 permanently prevents government agencies from possessing or using face, iris, gait, voice, and other remote biometric surveillance technologies, with only three small exceptions. It also includes language prohibiting police from using biometric information obtained in violation of the law in criminal prosecutions. It includes strong due process protections, ensuring criminal defendants are provided with information about each use of facial recognition in their case. Finally, it includes reporting requirements, so the Registry of Motor Vehicles must tell the public how many times they search their database on behalf of law enforcement, and for what reasons.
This bill - and Section 26 in particular - are critical to bringing about real policing reform. The use of facial recognition technology only increases racial profiling and exacerbates the distrust between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to protect.
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