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City council shoots down effort to override veto of facial recognition technology ban

Councilmember Kathy Parker at Monday's meeting (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

The West Lafayette City Council on Monday overwhelmingly shot down an attempt to override a mayoral veto of an ordinance banning the use of facial recognition technology.

In November, the city council passed the ban -- which was promptly vetoed by Mayor John Dennis, who cited the technology’s use as an important tool of law enforcement.

Facial recognition technology uses computer programs to compare individuals caught on video or camera to a database of faces. Privacy advocates say databases of photos can include pictures taken from social media without a person's knowledge or consent.

On Monday, Councilmember David Sanders, the ordinance's sponsor, attempted to override the mayor’s veto. Sanders raised specific concerns about the software company the Indiana State Police uses for facial recognition searches - Clearview AI.

Clearview AI is a controversial software company that has come under fire for its practice of pulling photos from places like Facebook without user consent. Those photos are then plugged into a database that is used to identify suspects.

Numerous law enforcement agencies across the country have used Clearview’s software - and privacy advocates worry there hasn’t been adequate oversight of the company, the technology, or its use.

“I appeal to my fellow councilors to take this into consideration,” Sanders said. “This is about government use of private software from an unaccountable company that is watching what we’re doing.”

But, on a 6-3 vote, the veto override failed.

Councilmember Kathy Parker said she worried about tying the hands of local law enforcement.

“We’re going to have a situation if somebody takes a picture of an assailant, takes it to the police and says ‘go find him’ and the police say ‘sorry I can’t there’s an ordinance against it,’” she said. “I cannot support that veto override.”

Sanders said he’s concerned that the cons of the technology are being overlooked because of some of the pros.

“I don’t think you can justify using a good tool if at the same time as you’re using that tool you are providing information to a company that doesn’t necessarily have the best interest of the community in mind,” he said. “The fact that there are these side effects that are built into the system I thought should be a greater concern.”