California Legislature Votes to Ban Facial Recognition in Police Body Cameras

California Legislature Votes to Ban Facial Recognition in Police Body Cameras

While the bill would ban facial recognition software from body cameras, law enforcement are not banned from using it in other cameras.

The California state legislature voted Thursday to send a bill temporarily banning facial recognition software in law enforcement body cameras to the governor’s desk, becoming the third state to do so. Outside of Oregon and New Hampshire, which have similar laws in place, two California cities, San Francisco and Oakland, already adopted similar measures this summer.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, must decide on whether he will sign the bill, commonly referred to as the Body Camera Accountability Act, into law by Oct. 13. If he does, the measure will go into effect in January.

The bill bans biometric surveillance technology in cameras as well as the practice of taking body camera footage and running it through facial recognition software at a later time. However, state and local police are not banned from using the technology on other cameras, including stationary ones, and federal agencies are not banned from using the software in California.

As facial recognition software becomes more common, there has been growing pushback from advocacy groups arguing that the unregulated use of the tech by law enforcement and government agencies could violate privacy rights.

Last month, the ACLU of California, which cosponsored the bill with Assemblymember Phil Ting, released a study finding that facial recognition software mistook about one in five California legislators as criminals in a law enforcement database. Other studies have found that the software makes more errors when it comes to accurately identifying women and people of color.

Ting said that no law enforcement officers in the state are using body cameras with the software right now. His measure aims to stop the practice before it can take off among local and state agencies.

"We wanted to introduce legislation before it became a major issue,” he told reporters during a Thursday call. “This is not just a California concern, this is a national concern, people have really … been much more sensitive to their privacy recently.”

Some law enforcement groups oppose the bill, including the California State Sheriffs’ Association. Cory Salzillo, the organization’s legislative director, told CNN Business that the bill, which will last for three years, is concerning because it removes a tool for law enforcement to find and track criminals.

"Even a temporary ban on the use of facial recognition could limit law enforcement's efficacy and limit its ability to fight crime and prevent crime," Salzillo said.

Matt Cagle, the technology and civil liberties attorney for the ACLU and a public critic of facial recognition software, said that face-scanning police body cameras do not belong on the streets because they could be used for dragnet surveillance of people going about their private lives.

"With this bill, California is poised to become one of the first states in the country to prevent its residents from becoming test subjects for an invasive tracking technology proven to be fundamentally incompatible with civil liberties and human rights," Cagle said in a statement. "Other states should follow suit."

 

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