The Portland City Council decided to table action on a prohibition of the municipal use of facial recognition technology until its June 15 meeting. Delaying, councilors said, will allow time for them to decide if a workshop is needed and to hear from city staff on the potential of its use. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — The City Council Monday stopped short of banning the use of facial recognition technology by municipal departments, postponing action until June 15.

In November councilor Pious Ali brought up the idea of banning the use of facial recognition technology by city departments, but joined his colleagues Monday in delaying action until mid-June. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Facial recognition technology, which uses a computer program to identify a person based on a captured image or video, is not currently used by any city department. The technology has raised concerns about privacy violations, but some see value in it.

This is the second time action has been postponed since Councilor Pious Ali brought the item to the council in the fall. While councilors were unanimous on postponement, they were divided as to how to deal with the emerging technology, or if a ban was even necessary.

In a memo to councilors last month, Police Chief Frank Clark advised against an all-out ban. He argued the technology can be helpful in solving crimes, in particular cold cases, he wrote. It also can be used to identify those who threaten public safety and missing or endangered individuals, he said.

A facial match is similar to a fingerprint match; it still needs to be analyzed by a trained officer to determine if the person identified is indeed the person police officers are looking for, he said.

“I can certainly see the potential future benefits of this technology,” Clark wrote in the Dec. 26 memo.

Paul Bradbury, director of the Portland International Jetport, and Kathy Alves, director of the city’s public buildings and waterfront, said facial technology could expedite the screening of passengers at the airport and cruise ship terminal.

City departments have “no current plans to purchase or adopt any facial recognition programming,” Assistant City Manager Heather Brown said.

Nevertheless, Councilor Kimberly Cook wants the council adopt a resolution that would require departments to get council approval before using the technology.

Councilor Nick Mavodones said such a resolution is not needed.

“We have already heard there is nothing pending. I trust what I am hearing,” he said.

Postponing action will allow the council time to figure out if a workshop is needed to further address the issue or if it should be referred to the council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee.

Councilor Tae Chong said he doesn’t see the need for a workshop at this point.

“No one is using it right now, so why have staff do all this work on something, to me, is not a big priority until a department said they are willing to use it and need some guidance,” he said.

Councilor Justin Costa recommends the council take a proactive approach.

“I think if we wait for something very concrete to come along, it is already going to be too late,” Costa said.

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