GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said on Tuesday he was glad that the state still has access to facial recognition technology as officials attempt to identify and prosecute Massachusetts residents who engaged in the US Capitol riots last week.
The insurrection that aimed to halt the certification process for President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral votes left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer, an insurrectionist, and three people who died after medical emergencies. Another officer who responded to the insurrection committed suicide on Saturday.
Baker said talks are ongoing between state, federal, and local law enforcement officials on using technology hosted through the Registry of Motor Vehicles to identify those who stormed the US House and Senate last Wednesday.
Baker insisted that recently enacted police reform legislation maintain provision for use of facial recognition technology in specific circumstances.
“One of the reasons I was so aggressive in maintaining that facial recognition technology was because I believed it was an important tool for dealing with situations like the one that took place in Washington last week,” Baker said at a press conference in Worcester. “I’m glad we’re still able to use that technology in Massachusetts within a framework we and the Legislature agreed on.”
Baker had threatened to veto the bill when it was originally passed by the Legislature to include a full ban on the use of facial surveillance technology. Lawmakers, uncertain whether they had the votes to override the governor, agreed to a compromise that imposed limitations on usage.
As pro-Trump militia groups continue to organize protests at state capitols and the District of Columbia for the coming week, Baker said that, so far, there has been no need to call in the National Guard to prepare for any violence.
“We don’t have in front of us anything that would justify activating the guard,” he said. “There are currently no known threats to the State House and other buildings in Massachusetts.”
Baker has faced criticism for paring away the more sweeping ban of facial recognition technology, especially from civil liberties groups that advocated for that part of the bill. They also say that he misspoke in his defense of his veto threat on Tuesday.
“Under the police reform bill initially sent to Governor Baker’s desk, law enforcement would have been able to use face recognition technology to investigate serious crimes—including the violence at the Capitol—subject to a warrant,” said Kade Crockford, Technology for Liberty Program director at the ACLU of Massachusetts.
While the organization condemns the Capitol insurrection, Crockford says the hope is that state law will eventually be changed to “ensure this dystopian technology can never be used to supercharge a system of racially-biased policing,” which was the basis of advocates’ concerns during the policing bill debate.