Ban facial recognition surveillance in Denver

Shall the voters of the City and County of Denver adopt an ordinance that bans the City from using any facial recognition surveillance system and from using data derived from such a system in certain proceedings, and, in connection, allows a person to initiate a legal proceeding to enforce the ordinance?

Biased, ineffective, and vulnerable

Facial recognition surveillance programs exhibit gender and racial biases, which lead to deportation, harassment, and wrongful imprisonment.

Facial recognition surveillance programs carry a high rate of false-positive identifications.

Facial recognition surveillance programs collect and store biometric data, creating an appetizing target for identity thieves and state-sponsored hackers.

Facial recognition surveillance programs have no place in Denver.

About this initiative

The goal

The aim of this initiative is to put the question of municipal use of facial recognition technologies to Denver voters on the November 2020 ballot.

The ordinance

The language used in the proposed ordinance can be found at this link.

Progress tracking

The initiated ordinance process in Denver outlines 7 steps to list a ballot measure. These steps, and their respective statuses, will be listed below.

Milestone Status
Submit proposed ordinance to City Council Completed 8/27/19
Attend a review and comment hearing Attended 9/11/19, ordinance revised
Submit petition materials to elections division Submitted 10/16/19
Elections Division review Final draft approved 11/06/19
Circulate petitions 680 / 8,265 signatures
File completed petitions Due May 4th
Elections Division determines petition sufficiency Pending

Questions asked and answered

What is facial recognition surveillance?

Facial surveillance recognition is a technology that scans people in a video feed and uses an algorithm to compare still images to those in a reference database or on a watch list. The list of users includes the larger agencies like the FBI, NSA, and NYPD, but many local police forces are developing or integrating their own systems as well. It’s a wide-reaching network: In 2016, one in two American adults were in a law enforcement face recognition network.

In the ballot title, found here, it is simply defined as: an automated or semi-automated process that assists in identifying or verifying an individual, based on the physical characteristics of an individual’s face.

Why ban facial recognition?

In addition to the fundamental notion of government-ordained facial tracking being distasteful, the technology itself isn’t very effective. The facial surveillance recognition systems of today have a worryingly high rate of false positives, instances where a match is detected but turns out to be wrong. In London, the Metro Police have reported that 98% of the matches in their trial software were inaccurate.

Additionally, false positives are not evenly distributed among the population. MIT and Stanford researchers presented a paper last year stating that facial-analysis programs demonstrate both skin-type and gender biases. That’s because this technology relies on neural nets to analyze a library of faces and generate facial distinction points. The datasets most of these systems rely on overrepresent lighter-skinned men which means when a non-model individual is processed through the algorithm, they’re compared against fewer distinction points which leads to a higher rate of false positives and increases the risk of systemic abuse among these populations.

Do the police need facial recognition to do their jobs?

It is not the intent of this ordinance to disrespect law enforcement agents. The job they do is often difficult and thankless and making their jobs easier should be a priority. Facial surveillance recognition does not make the lives of police easier. It’s an expensive system to integrate, it’s vulnerable, it’s open to abuse, but most of all it’s largely ineffective at its stated purpose. That may not be the case in 10 years, but it is the case now.

What are the negative effects of such a ban?

It is the intent of this initiative to prevent the Denver municipal government from utilizing facial recognition software or information gathered from facial recognition software from any source. This would mean that city officials at Denver International Airport ("DIA"), which is operated by the city's Department of Aviation, would be prohibited from legally using information obtained from federal partners, like the Transportation Security Administration ("TSA"), Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), and Customs and Border Protection ("CBP").

Additionally, this would prevent the use of such technologies in civillian agencies, like Denver's Motor Vehicle Division, which might utilize such a system in their driver's license database.

Has a ban like this been effected anywhere else?

Yes, San Francisco, Oakland, and Somerville in Massachusetts have already passed local ordinances banning facial recognition. Denver would be the fourth city nationwide to implement such a prohibition.

Would private entities be affected by this ordinance?

It is not the intent of this ordinance to interfere with a private entity’s development or usage of this technology. However, under the proposed ordinance, the Department of Aviation, and any other municipal agent in the City and County of Denver, would be prohibited from utilizing information obtained from a system if it qualifies as facial recognition surveillance.

Are there any exemptions?

The only exemption listed in the ordinance text is the use of such a system for the purpose of redacting a recording for release or disclosure to protect the privacy of a subject depicted in the recording.

How would this be enforced?

Any violation of this Ordinance constitutes an injury and any person may institute proceedings for injunctive relief, declaratory relief, or writ of mandate in any court of competent jurisdiction to enforce this Ordinance. An action instituted under this paragraph shall be brought against Denver and, if necessary to effectuate compliance with this Ordinance, any other governmental agency with possession, custody, or control of data subject to this Ordinance.

A ban is very absolute; why not impose regulations around facial recognition?

A wider ban allows any infringement upon the ban, for good or otherwise, to be accessible to the public. If Denver's city council elects to repeal all or part of the ban, the general population would be able to react in an appropriate and timely manner. Lighter regulations do not provide such a signalling mechanism and could even be used to expand a facial recognition dragnet.

Is the ordinance's definition of facial recognition too broad?

The definition of “facial recognition surveillance” is any automated or semi-automated process that assists in identifying or verifying an individual, based on the physical characteristics of an individual’s face. There is no reason to believe that any reasonable body or person would, based on that definition, interpret more mundane video surveillance systems, like CCTV, as a form of facial recognition surveillance.

Would Denver be able to partner with other groups that use facial recognition?

The intent of the proposed ordinance is not to limit Denver’s ability to share legally-obtained evidence or identifying information with other law enforcement bodies. However, if that evidence comes from a source classified as a facial recognition surveillance system then it would not be exempt from the ordinance's prohibition.

Does this ordinance prohibit police search warrants utilizing facial data from social media?

Yes. Obtaining social media facial data as part of a search warrant would not be restricted but using it towards securing an arrest or charging an individual with crimes would be prohibited.

If this passes, could I still use a Ring or other video security system?

Personal home security devices would not be subject to this ordinance. However, municipal law enforcement agencies would only be able to utilize such data if it did not meet the definition of a facial recognition surveillance system.

Ways to contribute

Denver residents:

We need evangelists, petitioners, and, above all, signatures. The initiative is also accepting monetary contributions via PayPal to help pay for marketing materials and any petitioner/tabling fees for local events. Use the form below to identify how you wish to contribute.

Outside of Denver?

You still have the power to help. Click on the map below to see what's happening near you and learn how you can contribute.

Contact us

The owner of this page may be reached at 5280not1984@gmail.com