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Facial Recognition Panel Misses Reporting Deadline .: The State House News Service

Facial Recognition Panel Misses Reporting Deadline

Day: Panel Nearing Completion Of Work On "Challenging Topic"

JAN. 3, 2022.....The commission tasked with delving into public agencies' use of facial recognition software in Massachusetts missed its deadline to file a final report, though one of the co-chairs of the group says it is nearing completion.

The commission was set up under a policing reform law signed in December 2020. Commissioners were charged with holding meetings to study the topic and were required to submit recommendations to the Legislature and the Baker administration by Dec. 31, 2021.

Gloucester Police Chief Edward Conley, a facial recognition commission member by way of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said the commission "hit the ground running" after its first meeting in April.

"This was a very tight schedule to talk about something that there's a lot of facets to," Conley said. "We all were dedicated and committed to attempting to meet this deadline but we don't want to produce something that's not complete and not thorough, and not representative of our conclusions, to meet an exact deadline."

Commission Co-Chair Rep. Michael Day (D-Stoneham) said the panel "is nearing the completion of its work and we intend to circulate a draft report for comment to commissioners imminently prior to conducting a final vote."

"We have taken a deliberative and thoughtful approach to this challenging topic and are looking forward to finalizing our work with our fellow commissioners," he said in a statement.

UMass Amherst Professor Erik Learned-Miller, a Gov. Charlie Baker appointee, said agenda item would sometimes spark long conversations at meetings which could cause the group "to miss some of our internal deadlines."

"I suppose different leadership might have just decided to act unilaterally and ignore that, but I think they took the time to give those issues as much time as they needed, which was honestly, hard to predict in advance," Learned-Miller said. "I think it's basically been about trying to really allow people to air their views exhaustively and come to consensus. It just takes a little bit longer sometimes to come to consensus."

The use of the technology sparked heated debate when the Legislature was crafting and processing the police reform bill. The bill Baker signed into law scales back the use of facial recognition by law enforcement.

Under the new law, police are required to submit written requests to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Massachusetts State Police, or the Federal Bureau of Investigations to perform facial recognition searches that assist with criminal cases or to mitigate "substantial risk of harm."

The discussion around facial recognition technology has featured some advocates calling for a ban on its use, warning against governmental overreach and the potential for bias in its application, while some in law enforcement caution that the technology can serve a productive purpose.

Conley said he is not in favor of banning the technology, arguing that it has proved to be useful.

"These are just investigative leads, we don't go lock people up because of a facial recognition hit here in Massachusetts, they're investigative leads for us to track down. It still requires independent evidence to charge somebody with a crime," he said.


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