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NYS budget blocks MTA from using biometric tech for fare enforcement

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The newly approved New York State budget has mandated that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) refrain from employing biometric identifying technology, specifically facial recognition, for the enforcement of fare payment regulations.

The decision, which comes as part of broader efforts to address civil liberties issues, was applauded by advocacy groups such as the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

They assert that the prohibition is a crucial step towards ending what they describe as the discriminatory use of policing tactics, particularly affecting communities of color and low-income individuals.

An MTA spokesperson emphasized that the agency has never utilized facial recognition within its expanding surveillance infrastructure, despite ongoing efforts to install cameras across subway stations and certain train compartments.

In contrast, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has been employing facial recognition technology since 2011, leveraging MTA video feeds to aid in criminal investigations and enhance public safety. The state’s new legislation raises questions regarding the NYPD’s continued access to MTA surveillance footage for facial recognition purposes, particularly concerning fare evasion cases.

Responding to these developments, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, based in New York, has urged the state to implement comprehensive legislation prohibiting all forms of government-related biometric surveillance, emphasizing the need to safeguard citizens’ rights and privacy.

The NYPD, in defending its use of facial recognition, has stated that officers manually review all information derived from surveillance footage before initiating any legal actions. However, concerns persist regarding the potential misuse and implications of such technology in law enforcement.

The new state budget’s directive represents a pivotal moment in the ongoing debate over the balance between security measures and individual privacy rights within public transit systems, setting a precedent for other jurisdictions grappling with similar issues nationwide.

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