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Virginia facial recognition ban a signature away from being banned

Virginia facial recognition ban a signature away from being banned

Another state legislature that had called for a do-over on its own facial recognition law has largely dismantled its ban.

While not a unanimous vote in the Virginia statehouse, both Democrats and Republicans cooperated this week on gutting a 2021 law considered one of the most restrictive facial biometrics laws in the United States, viewing it as being only a temporary measure.

The bill now goes to newly-elected Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, who has fashioned himself as a strongly pro-law enforcement leader.

The 2021 law, forged by a broad bipartisan coalition and signed by Democratic former Gov. Ralph Northam, applied to all local (although not state police) law enforcement agencies and college police departments.

It stopped local-level police buying or using facial recognition systems unless they first got express authorization from the state legislature, according to the Associated Press. That clause alone made it unlikely many exceptions would be issued.

Now, eight months after that ban was enacted, the state faces the prospect of an expansive new law authorizing the use of facial recognition.

In describing it, it is easier to note what remains, so far, prohibited. Facial recognition cannot be used by the government to surveille or monitor people or individuals, according to the AP.

Police acting on reasonable suspicion that someone has committed a crime can, in some situations, try to identify the person using biometric matching. They also can employ it for putting names to witnesses, victims and corpses.

The law also requires that any algorithm used by police be assessed by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology as having a maximum error rate of 2 percent regardless of demographic group.

Other areas, including New Orleans, similarly have backtracked. The New Orleans police chief personally pushed for reversing the law.

In Virginia, the rewrite was fueled in part by six lobbyists hired by Clearview AI, according to reporting by the Virginia Mercury.

Clearview remains the reddest of hot buttons in facial recognition. It has harvested myriad facial images worldwide, largely from social media accounts in violation of terms of service contracts.

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