-By Frank Quinn

Brad Hoylman-Sigal is a smart, strategically driven politician serving as State Senator for the newly created 47th District. He and his family are outstanding neighbors and fellow citizens who set a fine example for us all. When deciding to voice my opinions about public issues where I may disagree with Senator Hoylman, I try to do so while respecting his point of view. Senator Hoylman has been in the news recently because of some irresponsible shenanigans perpetrated by the owners of Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. There’s no question the issue is serious, but is Senator Hoylman?

In an unusually long interview on Good Day New York, Senator Hoylman made the following remarks:

“Facial recognition technology has been shown to be up to 98% inaccurate! It’s biased against people of color, women, children and trans-gender folks too. So, it is an ineffective and really dangerous technology that needs to be stopped.”

Contrast the Senator’s remarks with an article by former NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill. “Technology has improved the profession. These innovations include facial recognition software, which has proved its worth as a crime-fighting resource since we adopted it in 2011. But the technology has also raised concerns about privacy, so the public should know how the New York Police Department uses its system — and the safeguards we have in place.”

Senator Hoylman, along with Assembly Member Deborah Glick, is sponsoring legislation that prohibits the use of biometric surveillance technology by law enforcement. Having studied his bill, I find it includes some valuable ideas for appropriate oversight of this powerful and evolving technology. But Hoylman’s proposal would ban the technology outright unless a committee votes to allow it, taking a proven crime-fighting resource away from police across the state until further notice. I don’t think that’s a good idea — there is a better way!

For what it’s worth I thought it would be appropriate to raise the subject at a recent Police Community Council meeting in Senator Hoylman’s district, so I submitted a question by email asking the Council to arrange a meeting with the Senator to discuss the issue.

Longtime chair person Maureen Remacle replied “the answer is no, the 6th Precinct Community Council does not discuss individual laws like that.”

I then used the chat to make the following remark: “You are not making the best use of this meeting by not encouraging our local legislators to attend and discuss relevant issues.” Ms. Remacle answered me by saying “we do not want legislators to discuss relevant issues at this meeting. This is never supposed to be a political meeting. This is like a cooking class.”

I don’t agree with Ms. Remacle, but I also don’t want to disrupt the good work of the Community Council. I’ll simply point out that in January of 2020 the 6th Precinct Community Council hosted a meeting with Senator Hoylman to discuss bail reform. Why was it OK to discuss that issue but not the current legislation the Senator is sponsoring?

Public oversight of evolving surveillance technologies is critical, and I agree that bad actors like the Dolan family should be called to account for misusing it to prevent their business adversaries from enjoying the Rockettes. But Senator Hoylman used this stupid distraction to get a long interview with Rosanna Scotto so he could say that a proven crime-fighting resource is really dangerous if you’re trans-gender. I don’t think his comments should be taken seriously because they are ideological and craven. If he thinks otherwise I am happy to debate him — perhaps Ms. Scotto would host us.

Serious legislators engage in a public dialogue with public safety officials and technology experts to examine how to construct oversight legislation for surveillance technologies. Such an examination would recognize that technology evolves, and good oversight should be designed to evolve with it. Senator Hoylman’s bill does not accomplish this.

A well known scholar of NYC recently referred to our “incompetent Legislature” in Albany and noted that in the face of rising crime “New York needs to do better than awful.” As someone who loves NYC, I share these concerns and believe we need new leadership.

Frank Quinn is a media executive, parent and musician.

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