Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has returned a police reform bill back to the state legislature, asking lawmakers to strike out several provisions — including one for a statewide ban on police and public authorities using facial recognition technology, the first of its kind in the United States.
The bill, which also banned police from using rubber bullets and tear gas, was passed on December 1 by both the state’s House and Senate after senior lawmakers overcame months of deadlock to reach a consensus. Lawmakers brought the bill to the state legislature in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, later charged with his murder.
Baker said in a letter to lawmakers that he objected to the ban, saying the use of facial recognition helped to convict several criminals, including a child sex offender and a double murderer.
In an interview with The Boston Globe, Baker said that he’s “not going to sign something that is going to ban facial recognition.”
Under the bill, police and public agencies across the state would be prohibited from using facial recognition, with a single exception to run facial recognition searches against the state’s driver license database with a warrant. The state would be required to publish annual transparency figures on the number of searches made by officers going forward.
The Massachusetts House voted to pass by 92-67, and the Senate voted 28-12 — neither of which were veto-proof majorities.
The Boston Globe said that Baker did not outright say he would veto the bill. After the legislature hands a revised (or the same) version of the bill back to the governor, it’s up to Baker to sign it, veto it, or — under Massachusetts law, he could allow it to become law without his signature by waiting 10 days.
“Unchecked police use of surveillance technology also harms everyone’s rights to anonymity, privacy, and free speech. We urge the legislature to reject Governor Baker’s amendment and to ensure passage of commonsense regulations of government use of face surveillance,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
A spokesperson for Baker’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.