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City Council adds new restrictions to NOPD's use of facial recognition tech

The ACLU, an ardent critic of facial recognition, endorsed the new safeguards.

NEW ORLEANS — For some, facial recognition conjures up Orwellian images of Big Brother watching everywhere you go.

Others fear the surveillance technology is still evolving and not as accurate in identifying certain people.

“You’ve heard a lot from us and other members of the community that there are strong concerns about racial bias and gender bias associated with facial recognition technology,” LAACLU Policy Director Chris Kaiser told the New Orleans City Council.

Thursday, council members passed an ordinance adding restrictions and reporting requirements to the NOPD’s use of the technology.

“I think our concern is this, facial recognition really tests the boundaries of civil liberties,” District B City Councilmember Lesli Harris said.

Harris outlined some of the new checks and balances.

She said facial recognition cannot be used to hinder reproductive rights or persecute same-sex couples.

The ordinance also requires monthly reporting on the use of the technology.

And it requires the NOPD to perform a yearly review of the effectiveness of the crime fighting tool.

One of the things intentionally left off of the city council’s facial recognition ordinance is judicial approval such as a signed probable cause warrant to use the technology.

Harris admits that the judges at criminal court aren’t quite there just yet.

“They would like more information on the technology before they could decide whether or not they would actually approve or be process of approving the use of facial recognition," she said.

The ordinance sets up a “working group" to consider how judges can serve as an added check to make sure the technology is being used properly.

At Thursday’s meeting, the ACLU, an ardent critic of facial recognition, endorsed the new safeguards.

“New Orleans residents have been very clear and consistent that the debate over the use of surveillance technology is not over,” Kaiser said. “This needs to be a continued conversation, especially as this technology changes and develops over time.”

The working group now has an Oct. 1 deadline to report back to the city council.

According to Councilmember Harris, they worked closely with the NOPD in drafting the new facial recognition rules.

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