California bans facial recognition on police body cameras as Massachusetts urged not to follow

California bans facial recognition on police body cameras as Massachusetts urged not to follow

California’s three-year ban on police using biometric facial recognition with body cameras has been signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, The Sacramento Bee reports, and will come into effect in 2020.

The bill was widely expected to pass it final hurdles after it was changed from a permanent ban to a seven-year moratorium, before being further reduced to three years, and then clearing the State Senate in a 22 to 15 vote in September.

It is not clear if any California law enforcement agency has yet used the technology with body cameras, but the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Phil Ting, said he wanted be proactive to prevent a potential problem.

“The public wanted their officers and deputies to use body cameras to provide accountability and transparency for the community. The addition of facial recognition technology essentially turns them into 24-hour surveillance tools, giving law enforcement the ability to track our every move. We cannot become a police state,” Ting said in a statement once the bill was signed into law.

The ACLU has supported the bill, and also released a statement lauding its enactment. Police groups, however, have expressed concern that their efforts to identify potential suspects or missing persons could be hindered.

Ting plans to extend the ban at the end of the three-year period, according to the report.

Massachusetts

A similar restriction on law enforcement’s use of facial recognition could be enacted in Massachusetts, but trade association NetChoice has launched a campaign urging state lawmakers to reject a proposed moratorium.

A poll conducted by Savanta for NetChoice in August shows that 64 percent of Massachusetts residents believe facial recognition can make society safer, and 66 percent are against denying law enforcement the use of new technologies to fight crime. When asked if facial recognition should be limited even at the expense of public safety, 46 percent disagreed, while 34 percent agreed. In each case responses are split between “somewhat” and “strong” agreement and disagreement. Asked if they would support a politician that votes to prevent the use of facial recognition and other technologies by law enforcement, 22 percent said they would be more likely to, while 41 percent said they would be less likely to do so.

A recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows a majority of U.S. adults trust law enforcement to use facial recognition.

NetChoice has launched a petition calling on the proposal to be rejected as part of its campaign.

“Every day facial recognition technologies help law enforcement to generate leads in cases, such as homicide, rape, armed robbery and other violent crime, as well as for non-enforcement reasons, including identifying elderly persons stricken with dementia, finding lost and missing children, identifying homeless persons with mental illness and identifying deceased persons,” said NetChoice Vice President and General Counsel Carl Szabo in a statement by the organization.

“A moratorium on facial recognition technology not only goes against what Bay Staters want, it denies law enforcement tools needed to help keep our communities safe.”

Szabo has previously expressed at least tentative support for regulation aimed at increasing transparency around business use of facial biometrics in New York City.

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