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Washington county restricts facial recognition use by sheriff, country offices

biometric facial recognition

King County, Washington, home to facial recognition-providing tech giants Amazon and Microsoft, has passed a ban on the use of facial recognition by the sheriff’s office and other county administrative offices, local NBC affiliate King5 reports.

The ordinance was passed by King County Council in a 9-0 vote out of concern for the biometric technology’s accuracy, demographic performance disparities, and potential for encroaching on civil liberties. It blocks certain County bodies from using the technology themselves, or obtaining information from third-party facial recognition use. The ordinance includes a right of private action, according to Officer.com.

“The use of facial recognition technology by government agencies poses distinct threats to our residents, including potential misidentification, bias, and the erosion of our civil liberties,” said King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who sponsored the bill. “The use or misuse of these technologies has potentially devastating consequences which the new ordinance will help to prevent.”

The scope of the bill is limited, however, as King County Sheriff’s Office has previously stated it does not use facial recognition, and it does not apply to cities within King County. The ordinance also includes an exemption for compliance with the National Child Search Assistance Act.

Washington State passed a Microsoft-supported bill restricting the use of facial recognition by police and state government agencies last year.

Concern about the adoption of face biometrics by King County police nearly scuttled funding for its fingerprint system back in 2018.

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