Following months of deliberation and delays, the city of Portland in Southern Maine became the thirteenth city to issue a blanket ban prohibiting its city officials—including local police—from using facial recognition technology.
The unanimous decision among all nine councilors was reached late Monday night, after what seemed like an endless string of hemming and hawing on their part to put a full-on ban of the technology to a vote. At the time, some officials were reportedly hesitant over putting down their vote, since a ban on facial recognition technology would cut off the city’s local airport from tapping into this tech the same way we’ve been seeing with airports across the country.
Others saw the ban as being superfluous, since city staffers aren’t known to be using the tech right now, and pretty much all agreed that they had no immediate plans to tack on that sort of tech.
But as pointed out by Councilor Justin Costa back in January, if officials waited for these particular stars to align, it might already be too late. And in the months that followed, what we saw plenty of reasons to get ahead of the game: stories of uniformed officers abusing their power on a national scale, stories of facial recognition algorithms wrongfully convicting an innocent bystander, stories of inescapable surveillance being bankrolled by the presidential administration. Against that backdrop—and after a fair bit of prodding from the Maine and Massachusetts branches of the ACLU—it’s not hard to see why the council members finally caved.
Their vote turned Portland into the thirteenth city in the U.S. to ban facial-recognition tech, and the first city outside of California or Massachusetts to make the move to do so. And while the Maine State Police have denied that they indulge in these tools for any sort of snooping or spying, this move will make sure that they never have the chance.