By Frank Quinn
Assembly member Deborah Glick and State Senator Brad Hoylman have introduced legislation to ban the use of facial recognition technology by police departments regardless of its current use as a crime-fighting tool.
Last year former NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill published an article titled “How Facial Recognition Makes You Safer.” He described the value of using the technology to fight crime, acknowledged the concerns it raises, and provided insight as to how the NYPD uses it. “The public should know how the New York Police Department uses its system, and the safeguards we have in place,” wrote O’Neill. With respect to prohibiting its use he said, “Keeping New York City safe requires enormous and relentless effort. It would be an injustice to the people we serve if we policed our 21st-century city without using 21st-century technology.”
Identical bills sponsored in the Assembly and Senate, by Glick and Hoylman respectively, would prohibit the current use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement. Instead, they would establish a task force to evaluate whether law enforcement should be permitted to use such systems, and specify that the task force should not report its findings until 2024.
Recently, police reported how facial recognition helped identify a violent suspect. On Saturday, August 29th, at 11:00 a.m., a 25-year-old woman was attacked on the platform of the Lexington Avenue/63rd Street subway station. The next day police held a news conference announcing the arrest of 31-year- old Jose Reyes for attempted rape. Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison reported that an image from a video was submitted to the NYPD facial recognition unit which worked to help identify Mr. Reyes. “Some Good Samaritans took a video to capture his face, which was very instrumental in us being able to identify him.”
The Glick and Holyman bills would prohibit an extensive category of security apparatus known as biometric surveillance technology. A broad definition refers to analyzing a range of human physiological features including appearance, behavior, and even cognitive state. According to a report by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, biometric technology has grown into a substantial industry since the 9/11 terrorist attacks; not surprisingly, this raises privacy issues.
There is an abundance of information and commentary available about the potential uses and abuses of facial recognition and other biometric identification technologies. The NYPD published guidelines for how it uses the technology, but critics warn of too much leeway in the policy and the lack of a formal legal framework. Commissioner O’Neill writes that the NYPD’s use of the technology is “carefully controlled, and invaluable contributions to police investigations are achieved without infringing on the public’s right to privacy.”
Mayor Bill De Blasio said recently, “There is a place for facial recognition, but with really clear checks and balances and really limited use.” Assembly member Glick did not make herself available to comment on this or other issues ahead of the November election, and Senator Hoylman did not respond to an email requesting comment.