Facial Recognition Backlash

This file photo shows a security camera in the Financial District of San Francisco. San Francisco is on track to become the first U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition by police and other city agencies. And the city of Boise is backing away from installing facial recognition technology in city halls.

BOISE — Boise is backing away from installing facial recognition technology in city halls, city officials announced in a press release Friday afternoon.

“After researching this issue further, the city is concerned with how this technology has been used in other cities,” according to the release. “The city will use other proven methods to keep our employees safe.”

As first reported by the Idaho Press, earlier this month, the city signed a contract with Meridian-based company CompuNet to install software in the security cameras at Boise City Hall and City Hall West to detect unwanted individuals if they enter the building. City spokesman Mike Journee previously said the system would have alerted security if someone was picked up by one of the five cameras who has been given a legal order not to enter either of the buildings or be near a city employee.

The city’s announcement Friday said it won’t proceed with that contract. The contract had not been finalized, and no city funds went toward the software.

City spokesman Adam Park, who sent the announcement over email Friday afternoon, could not be reached over the phone.

Boise City Council President Lauren McLean earlier this month decried the city’s plan to spend $53,000 on the software. The move, which did not require City Council approval, would have been a step backward for transparency, she said in a press release.

Leo Morales, executive director of the ACLU of Idaho, released a statement Friday saying Boise made the right call not to move forward with the software.

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“Facial recognition technologies are ripe for abuse in the hands of government and law enforcement,” his statement reads. “...The technology has shown to mis-identify individuals, create a chilling effect for civic participation, and (disproportionately) impact people of color and women.”

Boise is moving in a different direction to offer another layer of protection to staff, by providing employees with software “that will allow them to use their cell phones to immediately notify security personnel if a threat arises,” according to the city’s announcement. “This software also would allow employees to opt in to receive security notifications from the city when a threat is present. The city also is planning additional training for employees on how to identify and react to a variety of different security concerns.”

Currently, if there is a security concern or someone is banned from a building, their photo is passed around to receptionists and staff who are in a position to see someone enter the building. Journee said previously that this is not very efficient and can lead to someone slipping through the cracks.

Facial recognition technology has become controversial in recent years. It has been praised by law enforcement as an easy way to scan massive amounts of video footage to identify people of interest in criminal investigations, but it has also come under fire as being an invasion of privacy.

Two cities, Somerville, Massachusetts, and San Francisco have completely banned the technology due to concerns. The technology has been used by the Department of Homeland Security to identify those who have overstayed their visas in the United States and has also been marketed to police departments nationwide.

Reporter Margaret Carmel contributed to this story.

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