Open Letter

Call on Minneapolis City Council to Ban Facial Recognition Technology 


Dear Minneapolis City Council,

As leaders in technology policy, privacy, and civil liberties, we call on the Minneapolis City Council to take a step toward fulfilling their commitment to transforming public safety by banning municipal usage of facial recognition technologies. Based on the data and context summarized below, we call on you to:

Pass the Facial Recognition Ban in Minneapolis, putting a prohibition on the City’s use of facial recognition technologies and information gathered thereof.

In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, long-standing disparities in public safety have surfaced in a nationwide reckoning. Minneapolis in particular has grappled with the future of public safety. Such dialogue and action must continue, centering the experiences of communities who have been most marginalized by our justice system. Throughout any reform or transformation in public safety, it is imperative that we do not simply transfer systemic discrimination from human personnel to digital technologies in forms such as mass unwarranted surveillance that replicates and amplifies racial and gender biases.

One of the greatest dangers in this area is facial recognition technology.

Facial recognition technology poses a profound threat to personal privacy as well as political and religious expression. The technology systematically underperforms in recognizing the faces of those who are not white men. These risks, in conjunction with a consideration of the technology’s performance flaws and algorithmic biases, lead us to urge the City Council to ban facial recognition technology.  

The Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology and Military Equipment (POSTME) Coalition has spent much of 2020 collaborating with Minneapolis City Council member Steve Fletcher on broad surveillance tech reform. The coalition works to bring community control to the technologies that impact the daily lives of Minneapolis community members.

Right now, Minneapolis residents are not granted the accountability and transparency that they deserve. The Minneapolis Police Department continues to use facial recognition technology from Clearview AI. This is incredibly troubling considering. Clearview AI is notorious for making false claims about its product’s performance, amassing databases of photos without user consent, in violation of websites’ policies, and for remaining opaque to any comprehensive audit of algorithmic bias. 

Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology is neither the only facial recognition tool in the market, nor is facial recognition the only surveillance technology lacking meaningful oversight. But prohibiting the City’s use of facial recognition technologies is a key opportunity for the City to make good on its commitments to uphold principles of data privacy, articulated in the City’s Data Privacy Principles and to transform public safety into a system that genuinely keeps the public safe.

By following the lead of a growing number of cities – including Oakland, Boston, and Portland – in enacting a ban on one of the most troubling examples of surveillance technology, we can work toward broader community oversight of surveillance technologies.

Again, we call on the Minneapolis City Council to:

Pass the Facial Recognition Ban in Minneapolis, putting a prohibition on the City’s use of facial recognition technologies and information gathered thereof.

For more in-depth analysis of the risks posed by facial recognition technologies, including their disproportionately poor performance in identifying non-white and non-male faces, we encourage you to review this primer on our website.  

Signed,

ACLU of Minnesota
Amnesty International USA
Black Visions Collective
Campaign for Digital Fourth Amendment Rights
Communities United Against Police Brutality
Defending Rights & Dissent
Demand Progress
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fight for the Future
Institute for Digital Humanity
Jewish Community Action
Lucy Parsons Lab
Restore the Fourth Minnesota
Seward Police Abolition
Surveillance Technology Oversight Project
TakeAction Minnesota
Twin Cities Innovation Alliance
X-Lab


[1]

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/12/10/mpls-city-council-passes-budget-with-changes-to-police-staffing-and-funding

[2] https://privacyrights.org/resources/facial-recognition-threat-your-privacy

[3] http://proceedings.mlr.press/v81/buolamwini18a/buolamwini18a.pdf

[4] https://postme.mn

[5] https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/carolinehaskins1/george-floyd-protests-surveillance-technology

[6] https://www.engadget.com/lapd-ban-third-party-facial-recognition-clearview-ai-112526446.html

[7] https://www.theverge.com/2020/1/24/21079354/clearview-ai-nypd-terrorism-suspect-false-claims-facial-recognition

[8] https://lims.minneapolismn.gov/Download/MetaData/16025/2020R-030_Id_16025.pdf