NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – Before the city council voted on Ordinance 33,809, local advocates spoke out about their concerns with how the NOPD is now allowed to use facial recognition software.
“Right now there are almost no protections in place around the use of the tech and we are relying on the NOPD to follow their own rules without any systems in place to ensure accountability,” Natalie Sharp with the New Orleans Voices for Accountability said. “
Sharp was one of several people in attendance on Thursday (August 4), who are against the technology altogether. The council approved the New Orleans Police Department to access the technology weeks ago. The hope was the department would have another tool to help identify suspects during a time when there is less than 1,000 officers on the force.
However, some advocates were concerned with what the NOPD was allowed to do under the original ordinance.
“The current ordinance gives the NOPD and state authorities basically free reign to write their own rules for the technology use and simply give their word to the council and the city that they will follow those rules,” Chris Kaiser, Advocacy Director for the ACLU of Louisiana, said. “Promises are great but that’s not how checks and balances work. That’s not how separation of government is supposed to work.”
A majority of commenters both in-person and online were in support of the council’s new ordinance, which would put safeguards in place.
One of the main actions calls for criminal court judges to get educated on the tech and the process the NOPD uses to get approval to use it.
“They would like to be a part of a different discussion with the NOPD, with the council, with different advocates,” Council President Helena Moreno said.
The hope is that if the judges agree, they will serve as the last seal of approval an officer needs in order to use the technology.
“We wanted to have an additional outside check, meaning we wanted the criminal district court to also have that check that they too approve of the utilization of the facial recognition technology based on the fact that the particular officer had followed the NOPD policy on the usage of facial recognition technology,” Moreno said.
All six council members in attendance voted in favor of the ordinance.
Originally, the extra safeguard was an amendment that Moreno and other councilmembers fought to put on the original ordinance. But Moreno missed that council meeting due to illness and the measure did not pass.
Now, the council hopes it would bring more trust and accountability over the police department and more protection towards certain communities and even women seeking abortion help.
“We in New Orleans need to protect those among us who are exercising their reproductive rights and who are LGBTQIA+ members,” Councilwoman Leslie Harris said.
Councilmembers also acknowledged more changes could come as facial recognition tech continues to develop.
“It’s too big of a deal not to get right. So I want to make sure we all get it right and I don’t want to get up here just talking. I want to actually be boots on the ground,” Councilman Freddie King III said.
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