Baker sees use for facial recognition in DC probes

Says technology good for identifying insurrectionists

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.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Freelance reporter, Formerly worked for CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

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.