The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and its partner, the POSTME (Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology and Military Equipment) Coalition, have released an open letter today calling on the Minneapolis City Council to pass the Facial Recognition Ordinance. The letter is signed by 18 local and national organizations working for social justice, civil liberties and privacy.
The ordinance would ban the City of Minneapolis from acquiring, obtaining, or using facial recognition technology or the information derived from that technology. It would also stop the City from entering into any third-party contracts to use the software.
The Policy and Government Oversight Committee will hold a public comment session about the proposed ordinance on Wednesday, Feb. 10. Then the committee will vote on whether to pass the Facial Recognition Ordinance and transfer the ordinance to the full council for a final vote on Friday, Feb. 12.
Passage of the ordinance would represent a significant victory for civil liberties in Minneapolis. Black and Brown people — who already are over-policed — are disproportionately at risk of wrongful arrest based on a misidentification by facial recognition technology. The error rate is as high as 34.7% for dark-skinned women, compared with less than 1% for light-skinned men.
“We already know that these racist, inaccurate technologies lead to unjust outcomes for Black and Brown people. We also know that, regardless of accuracy, these surveillance tools are disproportionately used in and against communities of color," said ACLU-MN Policy Associate Munira Mohamed. "Especially as we work toward transforming policing in Minneapolis, we cannot allow racist police to be replaced with racist technologies."
The coalition’s letter notes that limits on law enforcement’s use of surveillance technology is more necessary than ever in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police and the subsequent discussion around police reform. By passing the ordinance, the City Council would take a decisive step to avoid what the letter calls the “automation of systemic discrimination.”
Groups calling on the Minneapolis City Council to pass the Facial Recognition Ordinance include Amnesty International, Black Visions Collective, Communities United Against Police Brutality, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Jewish Community Action, TakeAction Minnesota and others.