The California Senate has passed a bill (in a 22-15 vote) that would ban the use by law enforcement of body cams that use facial recognition.
The move will send AB 1215, already passed by the California Assembly back in May on a 45-17 vote, to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom to be signed into law.
The bill states that police officers and agencies will be “prohibited from installing, activating or using any biometric surveillance system in connection with an officer camera or data collected by an officer camera.” It also provides for the seeking of damages in the event the law is violated: “The bill would authorize a person to bring an action for equitable or declaratory relief against a law enforcement agency or officer who violates that prohibition,” it reads.
If signed by Newsom, the law would go into effect on January 1, and expire three years later, on New Year’s Day 2023.
Existing California law merely stipulates that there be best practices and procedures in place for downloading and storage of data recorded by a body cam.
“This is a privacy bill that limits the use of biometric authentication by law enforcement during routine course of duty and I support it,” Chris Morales, head of security analytics at Vectra, told Threatpost. “The use of cameras and biometric scanning in law enforcement has persisted for years with no input from the people impacted, many times without their knowledge.”
He added, “As a California resident, I think it is important to limit the use of technology that can be easily abused even if intended for good purposes. We live in a precarious civilization that needs to balance the use of technology against the need for personal privacy.”
Privacy and criminal justice advocates have also argued that research shows there are disproportionately high error rates for women and people of color when it comes to facial-recognition accuracy; and that cases of mistaken identity can exacerbate bias in policework.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation for instance applauded the passage of the bill, noting in a Wednesday blog that “the government’s use of face surveillance – particularly when used with body-worn cameras in real time – has grave implications for privacy, free speech and racial justice…law enforcement agencies conducting face surveillance often rely on images pulled from mugshot databases, which include a disproportionate number of people of color due to racial discrimination in our criminal justice system.”
The state bill comes on the heels of San Francisco passing a similar measure in May, making it the first major city in the United States to ban government use of face-recognition technology. The Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance also requires public debate before the San Francisco Police Department or any other city agency adopt other surveillance technologies.
“Cameras exist everywhere and we are all being recorded all the time against our will,” Morales told Threatpost. “The concept of a nationwide system able to immediately identify and track people using biometric authentication is not far-fetched. I think legislation should extend as far as limiting the use of biometric authentication in the private sector as well as public.”
That said, a slight majority of Americans have no issue with the use of facial recognition by law enforcement. According to the Pew Research Center, a full 56 percent in a recent survey said that they trust police and government officials to use these technologies responsibly. That goes for situations in which no consent is given: About 59 percent said it is acceptable for law enforcement to use facial-recognition tools to assess security threats in public spaces.
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