Tag Archives: Baltimore

Baltimore May Soon Ban Face Recognition for Everyone but Cops

After years of failed attempts to curb surveillance technologies, Baltimore is close to enacting one of the nation’s most stringent bans on facial recognition. But Baltimore’s proposed ban would be very different from laws in San Francisco or Portland, Oregon: It would last for only one year, police would be exempt, and certain private uses of the tech would become illegal.

City councilmember Kristerfer Burnett, who introduced the proposed ban, says it was shaped by the nuances of Baltimore, though critics complain it could unfairly penalize, or even jail, private citizens who use the tech.

Last year, Burnett introduced a version of the bill that would have banned city use of facial recognition permanently. When that failed, he instead introduced this version, with a built-in one year “sunset” clause requiring council approval to be extended. In early June, the city council voted in its favor 12-2; it now awaits signature from Mayor Brandon Scott.

“It was important to begin to have this conversation now over the next year to basically hash out what a regulatory framework could look like,” Burnett says.

The proposed law would establish a task force to produce regular reports on the purchase of newly acquired surveillance tools, describing both their cost and effectiveness. Cities like New York and Pittsburgh have created similar task forces, but they’ve been derided as a “waste” as members lack resources or enforcement power.

Burnett says the reports are crucial, because a year from now, Baltimore’s political landscape could look very different.

Since 1860, the Baltimore Police Department has been largely controlled by the state, not the city. The city council and mayor appoint the police commissioner and set the department’s budget, but the city council has no authority to ban police use of facial recognition.

However, Baltimore residents will have the opportunity to vote on returning the police department to city control as early as next year. Mayor Scott himself supported this change during his time as a city councilman. The local-control measure could appear on ballots as the one-year ban is expiring, when Burnett and other privacy advocates would have the benefit of a year’s study on the effects of a ban.

The conversation around returning the police to city control reignited following the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 while in police custody. Then-Mayor Catherine Pugh established a task force to offer suggestions around police reform; in 2018, the task force released a report warning that “BPD will never be fully accountable to its residents until full control of the department is returned to the city.”

Adding to the push to restore local control were revelations that police used social media monitoring software and facial recognition to surveil protesters after Gray’s death. Burnett says the city needs to consider the proper uses of surveillance tools “before we get to a space where [surveillance] is so pervasive that it becomes very much more difficult to unravel.” In contrast, he says, government is usually “much more reactive.”

Critics say the proposed ban is an example of overreach.The police department and the city’s Fraternal Order of Police oppose the measure. A police spokesperson referred WIRED to the department’s letter to the city council, in which it wrote that “rather than a prohibition against the acquisition of any new facial recognition technology, it would be more prudent to establish safeguards.”

Trade groups also came out against the bill, particularly the provisions around private use of facial recognition. As written, the bill not only fines violators, it casts that violation as a criminal offense, punishable by up to 12 months in jail. That goes further than a Portland law banning private use of facial recognition, which made violators liable for damages and attorneys’ fees.

Groups like the Security Industry Association argued that this could criminalize private business owners for, say, requiring facial verification to enter facilities, or even schools for requiring online proctoring that uses the tech. Councilman Isaac Schleifer cited the potential criminalization as a chief concern in his “no” vote on the measure.

Author: Sidney Fussell
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

AstraZeneca Vaccines Made at Troubled Baltimore Plant Were Shipped to Canada and Mexico

Author: Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Chris Hamby
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

“We have confirmed that the doses received from the United States a number of weeks ago are not, have not been subjected to the challenges that have come up currently in the Baltimore plant,” Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference. “There is absolutely no danger of that for Canadians.”

In Mexico, a senior government official said AstraZeneca had provided documentation indicating that the doses had passed quality tests and were not affected by issues at the Emergent factory. “We are sure that the product that was applied to Mexican people was a safe, quality product,” Mexico’s coronavirus czar, Hugo López-Gatell, said at a briefing on Friday night.

The Biden administration’s acknowledgment that it had been unaware of the discarding of the lots of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which The New York Times reported occurred between October and January, underscores concerns about the government’s oversight of a key contractor in the federal response to the pandemic. U.S. officials bet on Emergent to manufacture both the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines even as a series of audits identified serious quality shortcomings at the plant.

The F.D.A. has still not cleared the Emergent plant to release doses of either vaccine in the United States and has not indicated when, or whether, it will do so. While AstraZeneca’s vaccine is not authorized for use in the United States, tens of millions of doses of it have been sitting idly at manufacturing plants.

The White House said last month that the federal government, which committed last year to buying 300 million doses from AstraZeneca, intended to “loan” 2.5 million doses to Mexico and 1.5 million doses to Canada. U.S. officials say the two countries were eager for the doses and have since expressed interest in getting more, especially because of a recent drop in supplies from India, another major supplier of vaccine.

Canadian officials, however, said on Friday that the nation’s own regulators were reviewing the recent F.D.A. report on its inspection of the Baltimore facility, which “will inform whether additional measures are required to ensure the safety of future supply.”

Emergent is a longtime government contractor that has virtually cornered a lucrative market in federal spending on biodefense. The Times reported last month that sales of its anthrax vaccines to the Strategic National Stockpile accounted for nearly half of the stockpile’s half-billion-dollar annual budget throughout most of the last decade, leaving the federal government with less money to buy supplies needed in a pandemic.