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Minneapolis City Council approves ban on facial recognition technology

Minneapolis joins about a dozen other cities that have banned or limited the use of this technology.

The City of Minneapolis has banned the Minneapolis Police Department and other city departments from using facial recognition technology. 

The City Council on Friday voted unanimously to approve an ordinance that prohibits the City of Minneapolis from buying facial recognition technology or using data from it.

“We have heard strong concerns from community about technology that invades their privacy without their consent, and we need to regulate it,” Minneapolis City Council Member Steve Fletcher, who introduced the ordinance, said in a statement. “This ordinance bars its use by City departments with some narrow exceptions that do not risk harm to its subjects.”

Minneapolis joins more than a dozen major cities that have banned or limited the use of facial recognition technology, which uses computer algorithms and/or automated processes to analyze pictures of faces.

While this tech can be a beneficial tool for law enforcement, opponents say it invades people's privacy and could lead to widespread automated surveillance.

Meanwhile, studies have shown it is significantly less accurate when it's used to identify women and people of color, which can lead to false identifications and arrests, further harming 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 said in a statement. “It is unacceptable for us to subject people in our city – particularly women of color – to such a high level of risk.”

The ordinance expands the City's data privacy principles and creates a regular reporting structure for the City to track and report any violations of the ordinance and remedies to those violations. In addition, it creates a "transparent" exception process for city departments that want to use facial recognition technology and data. 

This ordinance does not ban other bodies from using the technology in the city – such as the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, or private businesses – but does prevent city departments from knowingly using any data obtained from it.

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