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The Dripby Ian Round8:18 pmSep 21, 20200

Bill introduced in Council to ban facial recognition technology

The technology could lead to false arrests, says its sponsor. A bill to bar extending the BRESCO incinerator contract goes to the Judiciary Committee.

Above: Baltimore City government officials are trying to explain an “erroneous refund” caused by “a key-in error” compounded by an as-yet-unexplained software glitch. (Mark Reutter)

City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett introduced a bill tonight to ban face surveillance technology, citing a study showing it does a poor job identifying dark-skinned people and women.

The bill is intended to prevent the arrest of innocent people by stopping law enforcement from using the software.

“We know that this technology can lead to false arrests if the wrong person is identified,” said Burnett, who represents the 8th District in far west Baltimore. “[It could] have devastating impacts on people’s lives if we go forward with something like that.”

The study that Burnett referenced was published in 2018 by researchers from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They found three commercial facial analysis programs misidentified light-skinned men less than 1% of the time, but misidentified dark-skinned women 20-35% of the time.

“Such a significant error rate, getting it wrong over a quarter of the time, is a problem,” Burnett said.

The bill wouldn’t apply to some types of facial recognition software, such as those used to unlock phones and doors.

Last year, San Francisco became the first city to ban facial recognition software, and was followed by Oakland, Boston and other cities.

Some have questioned more than just the efficacy of the technology. The ACLU, among others, opposes the technology because it violates privacy rights and civil liberties.

Council President Brandon M. Scott spoke in favor of Burnett’s bill on social media last night.

“We have to get out of this mindset that technology is going to solve all of our problems,” Scott said.

Incinerator Ban

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke’s “Ban the Burn” bill (20-0615), seeking to prevent the Young administration from extending the BRESCO incinerator contract with Wheelabrator Technologies, was assigned tonight to the Judiciary Committee.

Clarke said the South Baltimore incinerator urgently needs to be closed in order to protect public health and the environment.

“This is the decisive moment, really,” she said. “If we don’t [end incineration], we will lose years and years to a half-baked fixup of BRESCO, which still pollutes and which has no end in sight.”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

It was a busy meeting, 2½ hours long, with a little more than two months to go in the 72nd term of the Council.

Councilman John Bullock introduced a bill renaming Columbus Day in honor of indigenous people.

It calls for an Indigenous Peoples’ Day to become a legal holiday in Baltimore in place of Columbus Day on the second Monday in October.

The bill comes after protesters knocked down the Christopher Columbus statue near Little Italy on July 4th, tossing the marble fragments into the Inner Harbor.

Last week, the city deeded the fragments, salvaged from the harbor, back to an Italian American group that gave the monument to the city in 1984.

“We believe the time has come for us to be on the right side of history,” Bullock said.

Preventing another Beirut

Councilman Bill Henry introduced a bill prompted by the massive accidental explosion last month in Beirut.

His bill would require the reporting of certain explosives to the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management.

“We all talked about how that seemed to be a really stupid thing that happened,” Henry said.

But when he looked into Baltimore’s safeguards against similar disasters, “we found a lack of actual controls in place.”

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to avoid having something like that happen here,” he said.

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