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Walsh signs ordinance banning face surveillance use by city government

Surveillance cameras in Boston.
Surveillance cameras in Boston.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Tuesday signed an ordinance banning city government use of face surveillance technology, which attempts to identify people by scanning their faces.

The measure makes it illegal for local authorities to obtain or use a face surveillance system, to use information derived from such a system, or to enter into a third-party agreement for surveilling faces. Walsh signed the ordinance six days after the Boston City Council unanimously passed it.

“[T]his step makes clear that we are listening to and addressing the concerns of our constituents and taking proactive action to protect the privacy of everyone in our city,” Walsh said in a tweet.

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Supporters of the ban have said the technology can generate false matches, and have expressed concerns that the technology is less accurate when it comes to identifying people of color.

Boston does not currently use facial-recognition software, officials have said, meaning that the ordinance will not change existing practice. The measure does include exemptions. For instance, it would allow law enforcement to use evidence generated by a face surveillance system in the investigation of a specific crime.

Other communities in the state, including Somerville, Brookline, Northampton, and Springfield, have banned face surveillance.

According to the ACLU of Massachusetts, Boston is becoming the second largest city in the world to make such a ban a reality.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.