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The politics of facial recognition in the US still swings like pendulum

The politics of facial recognition in the US still swings like pendulum

U.S. privacy advocates scored one of their few recent legislative victories, pushing through a near-total ban on government use of facial recognition in the largest city in the state of Alaska.

“Facial recognition technology doesn’t work,” said Anchorage Assembly member Joey Sweet, who voted this week to effectively ban facial recognition algorithms by any government agency in the state’s biggest city. And it infringes on an individual’s right to privacy, he says.

Celebrations might be a little muted, however, because some legislative bodies in the United States recently have neutered bans soon after they were written into law. In fact, in California, even some key lawmakers who had favored heavy restrictions on police use of biometric surveillance have softened their stances considerably in recent weeks.

Sweet and the rest of the Anchorage Assembly voted 10-1 to “ban the use, acquisition or access of facial recognition” systems and services by city agencies, according to an Assembly statement. Some exceptions were created.

Facial recognition can be used in conjunction with automatic redaction of video footage. The same is true if an agency is cooperating in the search for missing or exploited children as part of the National Child Search Assistance Act.

An exception has also been made for the coordination of multi-agency police investigations, and third-party agencies using biometric algorithms to identify human remains and suspected victims of human trafficking and child abuse.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers in California’s statehouse want to mark the end a temporary, partial facial recognition moratorium in the stage with permissions.

A three-year moratorium on facial recognition by state and local police ended in January.

It was seen as a model for officials who have not taken steps that privacy advocates recommend before algorithms are used with human intervention or not. It was also co-sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting, the same lawmaker pushing the new enabling bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which had teamed with Ting on the moratorium, is rejecting his effort in favor of a competing bill that would ban use of facial recognition in police body cameras through 2034, according to trade publication Government Technology.

Outside the U.S., the major debate is in the European Union, which is nearing completion of its proposed AI Act, which will address at least some aspects of facial recognition use by governments.

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