The Baltimore City Council voted on June 8 to approve what would be the most extreme ban by a local jurisdiction on personal and business applications of facial recognition technology.

Councilmember Yitzy Schleifer stated during the vote that “this is backwards.” Schiefer (District 5) and Eric Costello (District 11) voted against the bill, citing impact on securing financial transactions as well as software that helps the hotel industry and others fight human trafficking, among applications benefiting residents of Baltimore. The bill passed with the majority (13-2).

The Security Industry Association (SIA) supports a related measure introduced in the council to establish a task force to examine the technology and make legislative recommendations.

SIA urges city leaders to continue dialogue that could lead to a balanced, commonsense policy for the use of facial recognition that safeguards access to innovative services for city residents while addressing concerns about the technology and could serve as a model policy for other local jurisdictions — rather than an outright ban.

“Despite today’s inexplicable outcome to impose a complete ban on the use of facial recognition in Baltimore, there is still an opportunity to find reasonable compromise and fulfill Mayor Scott’s clear vision for improving citywide processes through the use of technology,” said SIA CEO Don Erickson. “SIA respectfully urges the mayor to reject the proposal passed by the council and instead appoint a balanced commission of citizen and privacy advocates, law enforcement personnel and private sector representatives to recommend guidelines within the next 180 days governing the use of facial recognition by business and government agencies. Lowering the temperature of the debate over facial recognition through more careful study and input during this period of time may produce a better outcome that can be supported by all stakeholders.”

SIA believes all technology products, including facial recognition, must only be used for purposes that are lawful, ethical and nondiscriminatory. In August 2020, SIA released new policy principles for the development and deployment of facial recognition technology, which include guidelines around the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement and the public and private sectors.

SIA, along with other technology and business groups, wrote a letter to the Baltimore City Council committee detailing beneficial applications that would be banned under the measure and highlighted concerns about the profound negative impact. The joint letter came on the heels of a request to President Biden from the airline, travel, security and biometrics sectors, as well as the U.S. business community, urging rejection of a ban approach and  adoption of policy recommendations for additional research, development, testing and government accountability measures.