Jail time in Baltimore for biometric privacy violations

BY Tevin Hopkins

An ordinance is currently on the desk and awaiting signature from Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, which will go into effect 30 days after signing and provide a blanket ban for the use of facial recognition technology within city limits. While Baltimore is not the first jurisdiction to implement this blanket ban, Portland, Oregon implemented a similar prohibition in September 2020, it is the first jurisdiction imposing criminal penalties—up to a year in jail for those who violate this ordinance.

Under the ordinance, which is currently referred to as Council Bill 21-0001, individuals “may not obtain, retain, access[,] or use in Baltimore city: 1) any face surveillance system; or 2) any information obtained from a face surveillance system.” “Facial Surveillance System” is defined as “any computer software or application that performs surveillance.”

The ordinance provides very few exceptions and seemingly covers a wide range of scenarios where this technology may have been used in the past. One notable exception to the ordinance, however, is law enforcement—who are completely exempt from the ordinance.

What is most notable about the new ordinance are the potential penalties and enforcement mechanisms set forth under it. Anyone who violates the provision is guilty of a misdemeanor, subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 and, as stated earlier, imprisonment for no more than 12 months. However, arguably even more notable, is the fact that each day a violation occurs constitutes a separate offense. As the ordinance is currently written, it appears that a single individual unlawfully subject to a Facial Surveillance System by the same entity on multiple days will have a separate cause of action for each day the ordinance was violated (i.e., a $1,000 violation per person per day). It is unclear how each separate offense will effect potential imprisonment.

Considering this new flat out ban on Facial Surveillance Systems, it will be imperative for entities doing business within the city limits of Baltimore to ensure that they are in compliance with this new ordinance before it goes into effect to avoid hefty fines and potential jail time. Even those entities not doing business in Baltimore should take note of this new legislation as legislation banning or severely restricting the use of biometric information is rapidly spreading throughout the nation.

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Tevin Hopkins


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