washington state capitol

Washington State Lawmakers Introduce Legislation Regulating Data Privacy, Facial Recognition

The data privacy bill would give consumers the right to access and delete data collected about them, while the facial recognition legislation would regulate government use of the software.

Following in the footsteps of their West Coast neighbors, Washington state legislators have introduced legislation to regulate consumer data privacy and the government’s use of facial recognition software.

The Washington Privacy Act mirrors regulations put in place by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which went into effect just this month. If the bill is signed into law, consumers would have the right to access, delete, correct and move data that companies have collected about them, according to GeekWire. Customers would also have the option to opt out of data collection.

Regulations will apply to companies that process or control the data of 100,000 consumers or more, GeekWire reported. In addition, companies must be either located in Washington or target services to customers living in the state. That means that some of the largest tech companies in the country, including Amazon and Microsoft, would be affected since they are headquartered in the Seattle area.

“We’ve really tried to be thoughtful and respectful of the needs for business and industry to operationalize this program, so that it’s not implementing a new layer of burden on top of them but it is also recognizing that those consumer rights are foundational,” state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, the bill’s sponsor, said at a news conference on Monday.

In addition, companies that make more than 50 percent of their earnings from selling personal data or control data of more than 25,000 customers would have to comply with the law, which would go into effect on July 31, 2021. State and local governments, municipal corporations and information such as health data would not be affected.

The WPA follows a failed effort to pass a similar bill last session, during which a privacy bill passed the Senate but died in the House. Carlyle told reporters that the legislation takes the best elements of the CCPA and GDPR, and that lawmakers have “95 percent agreement in principle” on most elements of the bill.

Carlyle’s bill touches on regulation for facial recognition technology, including a requirement that companies allow third parties to test for accuracy and bias. State Sen. Joe Nguyen introduced a separate bill on Monday that focuses on government use of facial recognition. The legislation would regulate law enforcement use but not enforce an outright ban. California is enforcing a moratorium on facial recognition in police body cameras for three years.

Among several measures, the bill would require agencies to publish an accountability report outlining how it uses the technology and how long it would be used. In addition, state agencies would be required to disclose how long the facial data was retained and used as well as whether human review is part of their process, according to POLITICO.

In an interview with Washington news outlet Crosscut, Nguyen said he and other legislators have spoken with a wide variety of organizations, particularly those representing communities of color, about their concerns over facial recognition.

Government agencies will not be able to use the technology for “ongoing surveillance” under the new legislation, and surveillance of protests would require a warrant. Humans would have to review the software’s conclusion to make sure it’s working, Nguyen said.

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