Madison Common Council passes ordinance banning facial recognition technology

Published: Dec. 1, 2020 at 11:44 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -The Madison Common Council passed an ordinance banning city agencies from using facial recognition technology on Tuesday.

There are a few exceptions. Madison Police Department is allowed to use the technology to locate victims associated with human trafficking, child sexual abuse and missing children cases.

Facial recognition cameras capture faces in public, documenting details and storing them in a database.

“It’s quite a progressive issue,” Max Prestigiacomo, Madison Common Council member said. “It’s really an untested, unregulated technology that we should immediately place a moratorium on until we can further study it.”

Prestigiacomo is proposing the ordinance. He said he’s pushing for the ban of face recognition technology because the system has flaws.

”There is racial bias. The data shows that this is so much less accurate with darker skinned people,” he said. “This is harm deduction and reducing the chances of MPD using this as a tool of oppression.”

“It’s not perfect and in fact there are more false positives with certain ethnic groups and with people beyond a certain age,” Nicholas Davis, UW-system information security director said. ”People feel when they’re in a public space they shouldn’t be recorded or have their information used in ways in which they’re not familiar with or in ways in which they have a granted permission.”

He says reliability on the software when it’s not always exact is also a con, but there are some pros.

“The cameras have done amazing things for law enforcement in terms of identifying people who have committed serious crimes and not so serious crimes,” he said.

“It’s been an important tool for us to serve those victims,” Victor Wahl, Madison Police interim chief said.

Wahl said the department doesn’t have the technology in house, but they work with external partners, using the system to locate victims.

“Juveniles that are missing and have been taken into human sex trafficking,” he said.

He explained exceptions to the ban would help the department do their job.

“I want to keep a few exceptions that try to strike a balance between privacy and public safety,” he said.

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