Minneapolis City Council votes to bar use of facial recognition technology

On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council approved a new ordinance that prohibits the city from buying facial recognition technology or using data derived from it, with very narrow exceptions.

Minneapolis now joins Boston, San Francisco and more than a dozen other cities across the country that have either banned or limited the use of the technology, according to a city spokesperson.

"We have heard strong concerns from community about technology that invades their privacy without their consent, and we need to regulate it," Steve Fletcher, the council member who authored the ordinance, said. "This ordinance bars its use by City departments with some narrow exceptions that do not risk harm to its subjects."

Facial recognition technology uses computer algorithms or other automated processes to analyze images of human faces. Council members heard concerns from residents about how the technology could be used to capture people’s faces without their consent and conduct widespread automated surveillance.

Minneapolis City Council committee advances ordinance that would ban facial recognition

According to a release, studies have also shown facial recognition technology to be significantly less accurate in identifying people of color, women and other groups, raising concerns that incorrect identifications by law enforcement would further harm already disadvantaged communities.

"Facial recognition technology works pretty well if you look like me – a middle-aged white man – but for everyone else, it can fail at rates that we would not accept anywhere else," Fletcher added. "It is unacceptable for us to subject people in our city – particularly women of color – to such a high level of risk."

Along with banning the purchase of the technology, the new ordinance creates a transparent process for city departments to request additional permitted uses of facial recognition programs and data through an exception process.

The new ordinance builds on the city’s adopted data privacy principles to consider and value the privacy of individuals any time data is collected on individuals, including only collecting this information when there is a reason to do so and being transparent about what’s being collected and why, a city spokesperson said. It also creates a regular reporting structure for Minneapolis to track and report violations of the ordinance and remedies to those violations.