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Facial biometrics specifically addressed in proposed Washington State data protection bill

A bill proposed in Washington’s state legislature would require companies using facial recognition software to obtain consent from consumers before identifying them, and also enable individuals to demand disclosure from companies about what data has been collected about them, and whether it has been shared with a third party, GeekWire reports.

The proposal from Sen. Reuven Carlyle would also force facial recognition providers to open their APIs to third-party testing for accuracy and bias. Websites and locations with facial recognition in use would have to post conspicuous notifications to that effect. Except for with a court order or an emergency “involving imminent danger or risk of death or serious physical injury to a person,” government agencies would be prohibited from using facial recognition to perform ongoing surveillance of individuals in public spaces.

Customers would also gain the right to correct or delete information about them, and to prevent it from being used in direct marketing. The bill would only apply to companies with more than 100,000 customers. Penalties would be enforced by the state attorney general, with fines ranging from $2,500 to $7,500 per violation.

“We really tried to have a thoughtful, measured bill that gave consumers protection while also understanding the way e-commerce and online advertising works,” said Washington Chief Privacy Officer Alex Alben.

Microsoft, one of the state’s two tech giants offering facial recognition software along with Amazon, thinks the lawmakers’ attempt is successful in that regard. The company’s general counsel for privacy and regulatory affairs, Julie Brill, offered her support for the bill in the state capitol Olympia, calling it “a thoughtful approach” that combines positive elements of European, Californian, and even federal law.

Alben also says companies currently in compliance with Europe’s GDPR would have little trouble with the proposed law.

“I believe it’s fitting that here in Washington state, where so many of the technologies that are changing the world are being developed, that the Washington state legislature has the historic opportunity to adopt privacy laws that will protect consumers in this state and help define privacy protection in ways that will influence privacy law throughout the United States … I would urge you not to miss this opportunity,” Brill said, according to separate GeekWire report. Microsoft has actively championed government regulation of facial recognition.

Among other stakeholders at the bill’s first hearing was Washington Technology Industry Association CEO Michael Schutzler, who expressed support for the efforts, but asked for the deadline to be extended from December 31, 2020 to July 2021. He also suggested that 100,000 may be too low a limit for companies that quickly add customers, but Carlyle disagreed.

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