As Pittsburgh City Council returned from its August recess on Tuesday, Councilor Corey O’Connor introduced legislation that would regulate the city’s purchase of facial recognition technology. The systems are computer-based, and usually analyze images and characteristics of a person’s face to match them to photographs in a database.
Currently the city does not own any facial-recognition technology, but O'Connor, who chairs council's public safety committee, said such systems can misidentify people of color more frequently than white people. He called his bill a proactive measure.
“We are just going proactive to say, 'If you're looking to get this in the future, come back to council and get it approved,'” O’Connor said. “But it's been proven that it disproportionately harms certain people in this country.”
But Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said when he heard about the bill, he had misgivings, and reached out to councilors.
“The way the legislation is laid out, I have some serious concerns about the effects it will have on law enforcement within the city,” Hissrich said at a press conference.
O’Connor said this is a way to be transparent and accountable to residents.
“All we're asking for is that if you want a certain technology, what is the harm in coming to City Council to get it approved? There is absolutely no harm at all."
The state currently uses the technology, matching images to photographs in its database of driver's license photos. O'Connor said he isn't sure if the city's access to that system can be regulated.