Anchorage Assembly member wants to ban the city from using of facial recognition technology

Joey Sweet is sworn in to represent East Anchorage on the Anchorage Assembly. Sweet is working on an ordinance that would ban the use of facial recognition technology by the Municipality of Anchorage. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

An Anchorage Assembly member wants to ban the use of facial recognition technology by the city government. 

East Anchorage Assembly member Joey Sweet is drafting the proposal. He said during a Public Safety Committee meeting Wednesday that while the city doesn’t use the technology yet — and Anchorage police say it’s not a priority to get it — he wants to be proactive.

“Policy is so often reactive,” he said. “I don’t want there to be an incident and then we respond to it. I want to do this now.”  

Essentially, facial recognition technology maps out someone’s face and compares it to database images, like mugshots and drivers license photos. There is currently no federal regulation of the use of the technology, and Sweet said that’s led to private vendors reaching out to governmental bodies to sell the technology. But he said the technology isn’t perfect. 

“Oftentimes, facial recognition algorithms and the databases they use end up having inaccuracies,” he said.

Sweet cited research from the National Institute of Standards and Technology that found that most of those inaccuracies impact people of color.

“They ran a report at the end of 2019 that looked at several dozen of the most prominent facial recognition algorithms and every single one was subject to bias and misidentification,” Sweet said. “Sometimes it was as low as 10 times inaccurate for people of color. The worst was 100 times more inaccurate.”

Sweet used the example of Robert Williams, a Black man in Detroit who was arrested by police after facial recognition technology misidentified him as a robbery suspect.

“There was traditional surveillance showing a man robbing a jewelry store about 18 months prior to the arrest,” Sweet said. “And any human being can plainly tell they aren’t the same person. But a facial recognition database believed that they were the same, and the police arrested him based off that information.”

Williams later sued the City of Detroit, something Sweet said he’d like to avoid in Anchorage. He said he’s also concerned over how the use of the technology could overlap with Alaska’s strict privacy laws. 

Sweet’s proposal would prohibit the city from acquiring facial recognition technology or purchasing it from a vendor. There would be a few exceptions, such as the use of Face ID on city-issued mobile phones and collaborations between Anchorage police and the FBI, which has its own facial recognition databases.

Sweet said a draft of the ordinance he’s proposing is being finalized and soon will be ready for introduction to the full Assembly.

a portrait of a man outside

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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