Boise & Garden City

Boise will spend $52,000 on facial recognition to keep ‘banned’ people out of City Hall

Chinese supermarket test drives checkouts with facial recognition

At a Beijing supermarket, customers don't need a card to checkout. Instead, a camera scans their faces and matches it to a sales account. After entering a mobile phone number to charge the online account, the transaction is complete.
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At a Beijing supermarket, customers don't need a card to checkout. Instead, a camera scans their faces and matches it to a sales account. After entering a mobile phone number to charge the online account, the transaction is complete.

Boise will start using facial recognition software at two city buildings by the end of the year.

Mike Journee, spokesman for Mayor David Bieter, said the city signed a $31,000 contract with Meridian-based CompuNet for 10 licenses to use software to identify people who enter Boise City Hall, 150 N. Capitol Blvd., and City Hall West, 333 N. Mark Stall Place.

The technology would be used to identify people who are banned from City Hall for any reason. That could include people who have made threats or people who have orders prohibiting contact with individual city employees.

Journee said this week that the program, first reported by the Idaho Press, would provide more security for employees.

“Many employees are very public-facing and front-desk-type employees who deal with the public on a regular basis,” Journee said.

No one is currently banned from City Hall, Journee told the Statesman on Tuesday. Bill Ilett, managing partner of the now-departed Idaho Stampede, an NBA developmental league team, was banned from City Hall temporarily in October after he confronted a city official over a proposed sports stadium that Ilett opposed and the City Council favored.

Journee said no specific instance prompted the need for the cameras. Rather, the city’s current way of keeping track of those banned from City Hall is insufficient, he said.

The city circulates pictures of those banned among employees who work at front desks and in security. Under the new program, the facial recognition software would be monitored to look for matches with those forbidden to enter the building.

The technology will go into effect “as soon (the city) can pull together regulations that will govern its use,” likely by the end of 2019, Journee said.

Five cameras would be used right away. If the city determines another building needs cameras, it too could get them.

Facial recognition technology has come under national scrutiny in recent weeks.

Detroit residents have accused the city of going too far in using the technology to deter crime, especially because it often misidentifies people of color. Civil rights activists have complained of the potential for abuse after learning that U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, scanned driver’s license photos in Utah, Vermont and Washington. In San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts, the technology is banned.

The plan in Boise is to pull together an internal committee of people from the Boise Police Department, the city attorney’s office, human resources and security officers to develop policies for the technology. Specifics of the committee are not yet known. They will, however, meet at least annually to consider if the people on the blacklist need to remain on it.

Facial data will not be stored and will not be connected to any police database or criminal records, Journee said. The program is not designed to keep tabs on how often people come and go, he said, but rather just to provide “a little extra insurance” to make sure employees are safe.

CompuNet was one of two companies that bid for the contract. In addition to the contract, the city will spend $21,000 for its information technology office to build a server to house the program.

A representative from CompuNet could not be reached for comment on the technology.

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.
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