Massachusetts police reform invoice: Senate redrafts facial recognition proposal after Gov. Charlie Baker rejects restrictions
Massachusetts lawmakers returned to the drawing board after Governor Charlie Baker rejected a provision restricting facial recognition in most areas of state government, revealing changes regulating police use of the technology.
In the most recent amendments, released Monday, the Senate committee was tasked with reviewing the governor’s proposed amendments that laid rules on the government’s use of facial recognition, rather than restricting its use to state agencies. The original language of the legislature in the Police Reform Act has severely restricted the use of the technology by the government, with the exception of the Motor Vehicle Register.
Under the latest proposal, any law enforcement officer wanting to use facial recognition data for an investigation would require a court order or written approval from the RMV, Massachusetts State Police, or the FBI. This officer would only be admitted in specific cases, including emergencies where a person or group of people could be exposed to “significant risk of harm”.
The committee has also worked out an exception for police officers investigating cases of identity fraud or similar issues related to the RMV. It also expanded the parameters of a facial recognition study to analyze its use and impact across the Commonwealth, not just the RMV.
“It is not enough to say that the lives of black and brown people in this community matter. We need to turn words into action and turn action into law, ”Senate President Karen Spilka, an Ashland Democrat, said in a statement Monday afternoon. “The version of the bill that we are about to vote on today takes into account the priorities of black people, including developing standards for the use of force and restricting facial recognition technology, while striking a balance between everyone involved in ensuring this landmark bill becomes law. “
The proposal clarifies that law enforcement agencies can buy and own tablets, cell phones, or other devices that use facial recognition technology for user authentication.
The agency could also purchase automated video or image processing software if it is unable to perform facial recognition or obtain biometric data for an examination in accordance with legal requirements.
The facial recognition provision was one of six main parts of the police reform bill that Baker sent back, stating that he would only sign the proposal if his concerns were allayed. He opposed civilian surveillance of police training standards as well as language that would suggest an officer is discriminatory by investigating a person’s race, ethnicity, gender identity, or other factors, even if those details are relevant to the crime being investigated are relevant.
The legislature agreed to leave the training in the area of responsibility of the training committee of the city police overseen by the Baker administration and not in a new civil-led committee under the new POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) commission.
They also named one of the Commission’s seats for a police force representative, although the civilian population outnumbered police officers on the commission between six and three.
The latest proposal also changes the definition of “unbiased policing” to include cases where an officer is racial, ethnic, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, mental or physical disability , immigration status, or a person’s socio-economic or professional level. Each of these details is relevant to the crime.
The definition of “unbiased policing” also allows measures that “are based on a criminal prosecution purpose or reason that is non-discriminatory or justifies different treatment”.
Rev. Ray Hammond, a doctor and pastor at Bethel AME Church in Boston’s Jamaica Plain, said he was disappointed that the Senate had ceded the governor’s definition of “unbiased policing” and standards for the use of force.
The latest language as he reads it isn’t strict enough to restrict the use of force among officials based on a civilian’s identity, but he hopes the POST commission can change this over time. The Commission continues to have the power to develop its own rules and regulations.
“They are clearly part of the process of determining these definitions and it is clear that these definitions need to be considered,” said Hammond. “I think that’s what people find helpful, but it puts a lot on the shoulders of this POST commission.”
The POST Commission, a system for certifying and decertifying civil servants, is at the heart of the massive police reform law and one of the provisions Baker, Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo rely on in drafting post-death laws by George Floyd by Minneapolis Police in late May.
The Black and Latino Legislative Caucus had been in talks with Baker for months before Floyd’s death. Rep. Russell Holmes, a former leader of the caucus, had tabled bills proposing such a system, and the caucus had made it one of its priorities in enforcing police standards in Massachusetts.
However, the Senate bill, which was released weeks after the governor’s, contained a wider range of regulations, including restrictions on facial recognition, bans on the use of tear gas and K9 units during major protests, and restrictions on qualified immunity protection for civil servants.
The House that expected to propose its bill first ultimately came up with a bill similar to that proposed by the Senate. In contrast to the Senate, the House proposed that decertified police officers should be deprived of protection from qualified immunity. The bill for the police landed on Baker’s desk in early December with the House’s qualified immunity provision.
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