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Some states reject facial recognition for police, but a groundswell may be building

Some states reject facial recognition for police, but a groundswell may be building

The Security Industry Association, maybe with a premature sigh of relief, is reporting that measures calling for significant restrictions on biometric surveillance in 17 U.S. states have so far gone nowhere this year.

A release prepared last week sounded suspiciously like a victory yell uttered before the bipartisan shaming dropped on facial recognition as a law enforcement tool in a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee meeting.

There was no shortage of consternation about the tool. It is promising, everyone voicing an opinion said, but it seems to have occasionally rounded up not the usual suspects.

Leaders of the trade group, of course, are fulsome supporters of the public use of facial recognition and kindred AI systems, saying they hold more positive potential than dangers. The thinking goes that, used responsibly, biometrics will do for security what local networking did for the internet.

SIA has published its principles for responsible deployment, which include transparency, accuracy, unbiased performance, privacy by design and the importance of human oversight.

Last week, it issued a release stating that “most state legislatures have rejected bans and severe restriction on facial recognition.”

In fact, as the organization itself points out, a clear minority of states during their 2020 and 2021 sessions either did not take up proposed legislation or rejected it.

New Hampshire, ranked by some as the second-most Libertarian state, killed a related bill in May, according to the SIA, saying facial recognition would unduly hamper police activity. That state has, however, prohibited biometric surveillance via police body cameras.

The association also notes that, on the other end of the political scale and national map, Hawaiian state legislators let die a proposal limiting government use in certain circumstances.

SIA leaders also seem to be ignoring local bans that could multiply because it can be harder for an industry to lobby effectively at that level.

The Port of Seattle Commission, for example, this week announced that it would regulate biometric surveillance for “traveler functions” and is endorsing a nationwide moratorium. Unless federal or federal law obligates otherwise, commissioners said the technology will not be used for police, security or mass surveillance. The announcement also acknowledges jurisdictional limitations on the control the Port Commission has over federal biometric programs.

A moratorium on the use of biometrics by local agencies at the port has been in place since 2019.

The port joins San Francisco; Boston; Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis; New Orleans and others in curbing at least police use of facial recognition systems.

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