Detroit lawmaker wants moratorium put on facial recognition technology for the next five years

The wave of public concern regarding police use of facial recognition technology has reached the legislature.

A Detroit lawmaker wants to put a moratorium on cities using facial recognition technology for five years.

"This is about government overreach," said Isaac Robinson, D-Detroit. "There has to be limits set on how this technology is used."

Robinson said there needs to be public input when cities consider using surveillance as invasive as this. In a bill he's introducing this kind of surveillance, as well as technology that allows cameras to be placed on drones and street lights will be suspended for half a decade.

"The data shows that this technology has severe racial bias and actually it misidentifies everybody," Robinson said. "I say that we have to stand up for privacy rights. Our civil liberties and this bill puts this on pause."

At a public input meeting Monday, Robinson called the technology "seriously flawed," a sentiment shared by many of those in attendance.

"We really need to slow down and think of the implications," said Tawana Petty, of the Detroit Community Technology Project.

But it wasn't just public anecdotes that struck a chord with listeners. Researchers that have studied the practicality of surveillance technology as advanced as facial recognition comes with several flaws.

"Facial recognition poses some very real risks," said Clare Garvie of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law School. "There are thousands of cases that have used face recognition, they've led to charges and that defendant's rights were violated."

Garvie said police departments haven't done a good enough job keeping records of their use of technology. However, Detroit Police Chief James Craig rebuked that notion last week, showing reporters how the department keeps tabs on information collected by the technology. He insisted analysts and investigators are only using the software as a lead, and it's helped solve crimes. 

But it's what comes afterwards that concerns many. 

"Today, it's drones. Tomorrow it's body cameras. The next day it's more and more of our civil liberties being encroached upon," said David Dudenhoefer of the Campaign for Liberty. "Once they get their foot in the door, then it's easier to go through the door."