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Tally of facial recognition bans being overturned keeps growing

Tally of facial recognition bans being overturned keeps growing
 

The high tide for U.S. restrictions on police use of facial recognition might have come and gone.

Seventeen partial or total bans on municipal and county use exist today, and a year ago privacy and civil rights advocates sounded confident that more were on the way. That looks less likely now.

In fact, a compendium of laws created by advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation could be updated with fewer restrictions before Independence Day.

In California and Ohio, local governments have acted in ways that could indicate that transparency in the use of face biometrics is not needed or, at least, repercussions for dodgy practices will be an acceptable cost of doing business.

Reporting by nonprofit community news publisher Knock LA indicates that the Long Beach Police Department has been matching faceprints regardless if a crime has been committed.

Indeed, the police reportedly ran more than 4,000 searches between 2009 and 2020, most of which were described as involving someone participating in legal protests against police brutality. No criminal case numbers were entered on records of system use.

The Long Beach Technology and Innovation Commission has said more oversight is needed before facial recognition is used again. According to Knock LA, commissioners have taken their recommendations to the Equity and Human Relations Commission.

Meanwhile, some cities in northeast Ohio have increased their face biometrics surveillance capabilities using Covid relief money, according to The Plain Dealer.

Cleveland, Akron and Canton are among the cities cited as using pandemic money to bolster facial recognition surveillance. In Akron, 50 cameras were bought, initially to be placed in high-crime neighborhoods (A plan since reconsidered; now they are supposed to be all over the city).

As many as 5,000 camera doorbells were bought, too. It is not clear if they are capable of being connected in a police network.

Then there are the local and state governments who are turning hostile to tight regulation of these tools.

In New Orleans, city council members are debating the repeal of a face biometrics ban for police. Signed in December 2020, the ban is seen as tying the hands of police officers. The mayor and city police chief have spoken out about the need for biometric surveillance to combat crime.

A meeting to discuss a repeal is scheduled for May 10. No decision is expected at the meeting.

And in Virginia, legislators and the governor are trying to write a bill to repeal that state’s partial ban.

In an effort to assuage ban proponents, amendments have been added that would make the state police a “resource” for local police using the tool. The state agency would not manage use or do searches for municipality authorities.

It is not clear when a final vote is expected.

In a shaky countertrend, state legislators in Colorado are debating regulations for the use of facial recognition systems for agencies and schools. The Senate has passed a bill that is supposed to minimize error rates for people of color, according to the Denver Gazette.

It explicitly bars police from using face biometrics results as probable cause to arrest, matching against an artist’s rendering, or using an image of someone to start a police record based only on exercising their First Amendment rights and other practices.

A competing House bill replaces the Senate bill’s language. It instead would stop agencies and schools from signing new contracts for facial recognition systems.

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