Privacy at the Polls: Portland, Maine Votes to Ban Facial Recognition Technology

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While the nation waits for the results of the presidential race to be tallied, across the country local and statewide referendums on privacy issues have been decided. In Portland, Maine voters approved a ballot measure to ban the use of facial recognition technology by local police and city agencies. Portland joins other cities such as Boston, San Francisco, and (the other) Portland, Oregon that have already banned the use of this technology.

Facial recognition is becoming an increasingly common method of identifying or verifying identity of an individual using their facial features. Facial recognition software is often particularly bad at recognizing minorities, women, and younger people, often misidentifying them, which can disparately impact certain groups —oftentimes in serious ways when this technology is used by law enforcement or government agencies.

Portland, Maine’s ballot initiative added teeth to an ordinance passed by the Portland city council in August 2020. That ordinance included the ban on facial recognition technology but did not include any enforcement measures. The recently passed ballot initiative includes measures allowing citizens to sue the city for violations, requiring the city to suppress evidence illegally obtained through the use of this technology, and making violations of the ordinance by city employees grounds for suspension or termination. The initiative additionally provides for up to $1,000 in penalties for violations, plus attorneys’ fees.

With the rise of facial recognition technology, many advocates have warned of the potential privacy and abuse implications, especially when such technology is employed by law enforcement or state agencies. Portland, Maine’s vote to approve this ban may be a signal of what’s to come in other cities across the country.

Continue to look for further updates and alerts from Bradley on state privacy rights and obligations.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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