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Facial recognition moratoriums, bans and un-bans wash across the United States

Facial recognition moratoriums, bans and un-bans wash across the United States

Unlike most sophomore technologies in the United States, it is getting harder to predict where facial recognition will be in five years, or maybe even three years.

This is especially true for government use of face biometrics. An earlier trend toward municipal and state bans and moratoriums has stalled and pro-surveillance forces have reversed some notable privacy losses.

A ban on using biometrics to identify people by local police in the state of Virginia last year has been ripped up and replaced primarily with subjective guidelines that allow for broad police use.

Local law agencies can now use face biometrics to identify someone if an officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has been involved in a crime. It also can be used to identify crime witnesses and victims and unidentified dead bodies, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

Significantly, the newly enacted law prohibits real-time biometric surveillance. Given that state politicians have swung from no substantive facial recognition legislation, to a broad ban and a qualified prohibition, it is easy to imagine more movement soon.

Farther south, hundreds of municipalities in the state of Florida are participating in a facial recognition program boasting 38 million face photos pulled from driving licenses, jail booking records and surveillance camera images given to police.

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 263 local police departments have access to the system, which is maintained by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the source of that statistic.

The publication reports that Boca Raton city council has approved a renewal of participation in the program. Local police are reviewing their policy in consideration of a new user agreement with Pinellas County.

Twenty federal agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI, access the database, too.

The sheriff’s office requires agencies wanting access to the tool to create an internal facial recognition use policy and to sign a memorandum of understanding that among other things, obligates members to conduct “regular” audits substantiating claims that the system is being used only for “legitimate law enforcement” purposes.

On the opposite coast, and with an opposing view, Long Beach, California, technology commissioners have formalized their skepticism of facial recognition in police hands. They want a moratorium on all related technology, according to reporting by the Long Beach Post.

It is not a surprise. The Technology and Innovation Commission has been working on the matter for almost a year with few words of praise for it. A white paper explaining the decision will be combined with a letter from Long Beach’s equity commission asking the city to impose a complete ban.

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