Boise & Garden City

Your face will be scanned at Boise City Hall. City Council leader faults that decision

Customs and Border Protection using facial biometrics for travel

CBP is using facial biometrics to confirm traveler identities and protect the nation from potential threats. Officials say a team at Washington Dulles International Airport recently intercepted an imposter posing as a French citizen.
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CBP is using facial biometrics to confirm traveler identities and protect the nation from potential threats. Officials say a team at Washington Dulles International Airport recently intercepted an imposter posing as a French citizen.

Mayor David Bieter plans to have facial recognition scanners operating at Boise City Hall by the end of the year. That is drawing criticism this week from Bieter’s most prominent challenger in the November mayoral election, City Council President Lauren McLean.

McLean said Bieter should have discussed the plan with the council, even though the decision did not need City Council approval because the contract amount was less than $100,000.

The city signed a $31,000 contract with Meridian-based CompuNet for 10 licenses to use software to identify people who enter City Hall, 150 N. Capitol Blvd., and City Hall West, 333 N. Mark Stall Place, a Bieter spokesman said this week. The city will spend an additional $21,000 to build a server for the program.

“The administration’s decision to invest in and deploy surveillance technology without a full discussion of the impacts and rules around its use, or at minimum a conversation with City Council about the decision, isn’t acceptable to me,” McLean said in a news release Thursday.

The technology would be used to identify people who are banned from City Hall for any reason. No one is banned from City Hall at this time, spokesman Mike Journee said Monday.

McLean said the decision is “a disappointing step backwards” at a time when Boise residents are asking for more transparency at City Hall.

Boise City Hall
Facial-recognition scanners are scheduled to be installed this year at Boise City Hall in an effort to block banned people from the building for employees’ security. Hayley Harding

“Matters of public interest warrant transparent public discussions,” she said. “Does it take more time and effort? Absolutely. But I firmly believe that investing time and care when people’s privacy, liberties, and tax dollars are on the line is the very essence of public service.”

Bieter campaign spokesman Jesse Maldonado said Thursday that the city is “simply updating an outdated process.”

“The campaign is not interested in politicizing the safety of city staff or city hall patrons,” Moldonado said in a text message to the Idaho Statesman.

In her release, McLean said, “Of course we need to keep our valued city of Boise employees safe. That’s a given. It’s our job as public officials to do so in a way that doesn’t undercut our city’s values. There are best practices in place all over the country in dealing with surveillance technology issues: Let’s have a full study of those ... It’s unfortunate that this conversation with the community didn’t happen before the contract was signed. “

The city’s current way to track people banned from City Hall is to circulate pictures among employees who work at front desks and in security, but the new program would be monitored to look for matches with people who shouldn’t be in 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.

One City Hall ban made news in the past year: 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.

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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.
Maddie Capron is an intern with the Idaho Statesman, covering general news and features. She is a recent graduate of Ohio University and grew up in Ohio. Previously, she was an intern with the Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism, Garden Center and Cleveland Scene magazines.
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