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Minneapolis considers ban of facial recognition technology

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN (WCCO) — A controversial crime-fighting tool could soon be off-limits in Minneapolis.

City leaders are trying to decide whether facial recognition technology (FRT) is an asset or an invasion of privacy.

Privacy is just one concern Minneapolis City Council Member Steve Fletcher has with FRT applications.

“I want to maintain people’s right to walk through the city without feeling like their government is tracking them,” Fletcher said. “A lot of those uses have significant data privacy implications, significant infringements on civil liberties and significant technological limitations in accurately identifying people.”

Fletcher says the technology has a tougher time accurately identifying women and people of color.

“I’m concerned about wrongful arrests, I’m concerned about people being targeted for investigations who should not be targeted for investigations,” he said.

Michael Rainville, a candidate for Fletcher’s city council ward, says the technology could be a helpful tool for law enforcement.

“I agree with them, that is a valid concern, but at this point in time I believe the good of the public safety is first and foremost,” Rainville said. “As anything new, it hasn’t had its bugs ironed out yet, so it’s evolving.”

Tim Murray, owner of 75-year-old downtown institution Murray’s steakhouse, says public safety has been up and down in downtown over the years. He supports the city using the technology, but only if it’s used responsibly

“I guess I’m just about anything that helps get things right, you know, and anything that can be used to aid the authorities in a very responsible manner. I’m all for,” Murray said.

The council will have a public hearing and vote on Feb. 10 with a final council decision on Feb. 12 on whether FRT has any place in Minneapolis’s future.

“We need to try everything we can to make our city safe again,” Rainville said.

Cities like Boston and San Francisco have already banned this technology. Several Minnesota organizations have formed a coalition pushing for Minneapolis to be next.

“Sometimes the best way to protect people’s privacy is to not have the data,” Fletcher said.

The coalition is hosting a community engagement meeting on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

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