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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

July 15, 2019

The Detroit News. July 9, 2019

Facial recognition technology invites abuse

Detroit police have been using facial recognition software for more than a year under standard operating guidelines, but without a formal policy approved by the Board of Police Commissioners. That’s not OK. The software has tremendous potential for violating civil liberties, and its use should come with restrictions that are clearly understood by both the public and the police.

The board has delayed voting on formal procedures, insisting citizens can trust police to use the technology properly to assure a safer community.

But any intrusive measure employed by law enforcement should come with strong oversight. Along with privacy concerns, the software could also run afoul of Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.

The facial recognition initiative is separate from the city’s Project Green Light, in which business owners can purchase cameras that provide a live video connection to the police department. However, footage from the cameras may be scanned by the facial recognition software.

Many business owners and residents have applauded the Green Light program for keeping the city safer. Indeed, the cameras have helped solve crimes, says Willie Bell, a district chairman on the Police Commissioners’ board. Footage from the cameras has helped track down suspects in the May shooting of five members of the LGBT community, as well as the suspects who halted traffic on Lodge Freeway while performing stunts in their vehicles.

Yet others question the effectiveness of the program. Eric C. Williams, an attorney with ACLU of Michigan, says there is no evidence to suggest that either Project Green Light or use of facial recognition technology has helped prevent crime.

“Crime trends in Detroit have been falling parallel to the national trend,” Williams said. “Our line is just higher.”

Further, Williams expressed concern that facial recognition is especially problematic for minorities, since it has proven less accurate at recognizing black and brown faces.

“The law has not caught up to technology, and rules haven’t been made to address our fundamental rights,” Williams says.

Bell assures that any problems with the technology will be addressed, and that the department are taking constitutional concerns seriously.

A plan signed in April said the software cannot be used “unless there is reasonable suspicion that such use of facial recognition technology will provide information relevant to an active or ongoing criminal or homeland security investigation.”

But there are no regulations on constitutes “reasonable suspicion.” Judgment in this case is based on subjective evaluations or on algorithms — which some studies have shown to be inaccurate.

Though the police say the facial recognition software is used only to identify violent criminal offenders, new technology often opens a Pandora’s box. One potential problem, Williams says, is the department’s potential to share its database with other law enforcement agencies, including federal immigration officials.

“It’s not even just a matter of if you trust any individual on the Detroit Police Department,” Williams says. “It’s whether or not you trust the U.S. government.”

The Detroit Police Department must address these concerns in producing a comprehensive and clear policy for who, when and why facial recognition technology is used. And since the program is already in place, those guidelines should come as soon as possible.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. July 11, 2019

Deplatforming doesn’t quell unpopular opinions

Dear readers,

We would like to offer an opinion that seems unpopular in some spaces these days — that unpopular opinions matter, too.

A recent issue brought close-to-home the now common effort to silence perceived non-majority opinions — in this case the Petoskey News Review’s decision to run a letter called “Don’t celebrate perversion.”

The letter-writer, also a one-time party delegate, said he didn’t agree with the LGBTQ lifestyle being celebrated.

Outrage was swift and severe. But the majority of it was directed at the paper, and the editor’s decision to publish the letter.

The space we dedicate to your letters is valuable, and we verify each letter for authorship, length, truth, and personal attacks.

Signed, local opinions are welcome — even the ones we don’t personally or our official editorial position doesn’t agree with.

These opinions aren’t fake Facebook accounts with shadowy motives — they are held by real people — your neighbors.

If you disagree with them, it’s our hope that you’ll write a letter back.

In this way we all become 1) exposed to the real views of our community and 2) provided an objective space to be heard.

Both of these values are needles in today’s digital haystack.

Algorithms reflect our own values and interests back at us — there’s very little need to mix with the “other” points of view anymore.

Or any other point of view, for that matter.

It seems ideas contrary to our personal worldview are as welcome as a dose of toxic radiation. Eventually, intolerance burns away our human connection to each other, layer by layer.

We see this in the deplatforming movement, defined here as political activism by prior restraint, aimed at depriving those who speak offensively a venue.

We understand its purpose for some — to protect us from hate speech — and see its noble intentions.

But we also know that protecting people from reality isn’t the way to go, either.

And that “protection” — like everything else — is a matter of opinion, which is a truly slippery slope.

Society’s current methodology — ganging up in social media shoutdowns, and stamping someone with oversimplified labels — isn’t doing much for tolerance or diversifying our marketplace of ideas.

All platforms — including ours — have the right to judge and choose what we publish. We take that responsibility seriously.

We’ve worked hard over the last several years to allow our opinion pages to be a place where you and your peers can safely have a civil debate. You can disagree. You can agree to disagree on any given issue and still walk away friends.

The trending inability to accept differing views is troubling to us. We see it on university campuses; we see it on social media; we see it on television; we see it in print; we see it within families. It’s time we, as a society face this issue head on.

We also believe our community is better for the variety of opinions within it, and in creating an objective space for people to air theirs their’s civilly.

We may hold our noses at some points of view, but we believe that we’re all better for knowing most of the views held by our peers no matter if the opinion is deemed unpopular.

We hope you agree.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). July 11, 2019

Cambensy’s mining committee bill a good move for state

We were very pleased to see that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bill 4227 into law Monday, officially creating the Committee on Michigan’s Mining Future.

Introduced in February by state Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, the committee will be responsible for making advisory legislative and policy recommendations to strengthen and develop sustainable mining practices in Michigan.

“I’m extremely happy to have my first bill signed into law (Monday) by Gov. Whitmer,” Cambensy said in a press release. “Establishing an advisory committee to look at existing gaps in coordination, communication, and what industry and interest groups find important or lacking in terms of mining research, infrastructure, energy and the environment will be key to coming up with long-term goals and strategies that help elected leaders make sound policy decisions.”

Cambensy said the idea for this legislation came from watching the idling of the Empire Mine in 2016. A few years earlier, a major expansion and the development of a direct reduced iron pellet necessary in order to melt recycled steel and create new steel products was being worked on at the Marquette Iron Range.

“It became increasingly clear after watching the investment shift from Michigan to Minnesota, that what elected leaders do or don’t do at the state level can be crucial to where investments are made,” she said.

Those investments, according to Cambensy, are not just limited to more exploration and development of minerals to mine. They also involve key issues environmental groups would like to see addressed. She credits her bills’ wide bipartisan support, passing unanimously in the Senate and passing the House in a vote of 107-1, to making sure the committee had representation from a diverse group of stakeholders.

“We will have the chance to look at creating an environmental remediation fund to help clean up century-old abandoned mining sites,” she said. “And we will have the opportunity to look at urban mining — how we reuse precious metals in our cell phones, computers, appliances and vehicles — especially as electric vehicles become increasingly affordable.”

According to the release, being able to bring both political parties together in Lansing to help colleagues understand the purpose and importance of this mining committee bill took a lot of work, but the outcome of near-unanimous support gives Cambensy hope that society can also move past the either/or dilemma with mining that pits environmentalists against economists and instead work together.

We are glad to see both sides of the aisle come together to do what is best for our community and its future. We are also proud of Cambensy and the work she is doing to represent her community. Keep it up Sara.

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