Washington State Senate Adopts Legislation To Regulate Facial Recognition Statewide

While a senate bill would largely ban government agencies from using facial recognition for ongoing surveillance, other legislators are pushing for a full moratorium on the software.

As Congress weighs implementing restrictions on the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement and government agencies, Washington state senators are taking action on the state level.

Senators approved a bill on Wednesday that bans state and local government agencies from using facial recognition for ongoing surveillance in cases that do not involve a search warrant, according to The Seattle Times. A government agency can also determine that ongoing facial recognition use is necessary in some emergencies, such as if people are at risk of dying.

“Right now, facial-recognition technology is being used unchecked and with little recourse,” Sen. Joe Nguyen, a Democrat, said during a speech before the bill passed. “And tech companies generally don’t care about the moral values of the products they are creating.”

An agency worker with training on facial recognition must also review any decisions made about the use of the software under the legislation. The worker must have the authority to change the decision, particularly in cases where facial recognition is being used to determine the granting or denying of loans, health care, housing or employment.

SB 6280 also sets standards for training that government employees receive on how to handle personal data, such as facial scans. If the bill is adopted, government agencies must issue annual reports on how they use the technology and hold community meetings on those reports, the Times reported.

Lawmakers in the state House are pushing for a moratorium on government use of facial recognition, with one bill proposing a ban until July 1, 2023. The bill passed a House committee but did not receive a full vote before a key deadline on Wednesday, according to the Times.

Some legislators are calling for a compromise between Nguyen and the more strict House bill, with Republican Rep. Matt Boehnke suggesting a one-year moratorium so legislators can determine how facial recognition is currently being used by the government and how to properly regulate it.

The controversy surrounding facial recognition, and its accuracy in identifying people of color and women, continues to brew across the country. Several cities have banned government use of the software, and critics cite a federal study issued in December finding that most facial recognition algorithms in the U.S. are less accurate for people of color, particularly African-Americans and Native Americans.

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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