The Massachusetts House of Representatives today accepted recommendations from the Special Commission to Evaluate Government Use of Facial Recognition Technology in the Commonwealth, voting with strong bipartisan support to pass a set of reforms to strengthen existing law. Amendment #14 to H.5046 would centralize police use of the technology, require a warrant for police facial recognition searches, limit searches to felony investigations, prohibit the use of facial recognition technology for surveillance and emotion analysis, and protect due process. 

Kade Crockford, Technology for Liberty program director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, released the following statement in response: 

“We thank Speaker Ronald Mariano, Chairman Mike Day, and House leadership for their strong support on this very important public policy issue. The amendment, sponsored by Representatives Orlando Ramos and David Rogers, creates a balanced framework to regulate face surveillance technology in Massachusetts. This amendment codifies the Special Commission recommendations, which appropriately balance public safety and civil liberties. It builds on critical reforms passed last session by the House and Senate; we are grateful to the leadership of both chambers who have worked to ensure that face surveillance technology doesn’t get out ahead of our basic rights. We ask the Senate to advance the same provisions, and look forward to continued collaboration with the legislature to protect the privacy of Massachusetts residents.” 

The ACLU of Massachusetts launched its “Press Pause on Face Surveillance” campaign in 2019, building awareness about the civil liberties concerns posed by face surveillance and the need to bring government use of the technology under democratic control. The campaign has so far secured eight municipal bans on face surveillance in communities across the state, including in Massachusetts’ four largest cities. This legislative session, the ACLU has supported H.135 filed by Representatives David Rogers and Orlando Ramos, and S.47 filed by Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem. 

In 2020, Massachusetts lawmakers advanced groundbreaking legislation to regulate government use of facial recognition technology. Ultimately, however, Governor Baker signed weaker measures into law. As a result, the existing statute does not sufficiently protect racial justice, privacy, or due process.  

The Massachusetts Legislature and Governor Baker also agreed to establish the Special Commission to explore more comprehensive regulation of the government’s use of face surveillance. In March 2022, the Special Commission—chaired by Representative Mike Day and Senator Jamie Eldridge—released a report recommending the Massachusetts Legislature adopt new reforms on face surveillance. The Special Commission recommendations were endorsed by a wide range of stakeholders including the NAACP, the Attorney General’s Office, the Massachusetts State Police, the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the ACLU. 

For more information about “Press Pause on Face Surveillance,” go to: http://www.aclum.org/presspause