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Montana law restricting facial recognition use by police, public agencies takes effect

Montana law restricting facial recognition use by police, public agencies takes effect

A new bill establishing the right of state and local agencies in Montana, including law enforcement, to use facial recognition, along with restrictions on the technology’s use, has been signed into law.

The Facial Recognition for Government Use Act (SB0397) allows Montana’s law enforcement agencies to use face biometrics to look for suspects, victims of, or witnesses to “serious crime.”

Put forward just a few months ago, the act prohibits the use of “continuous” facial recognition, commonly referred to as “live” or “real-time” facial recognition. It also establishes human review and audit procedures to ensure the technology is only used in compliant ways.

Police are required to obtain a warrant to use facial recognition, though they can deploy it before getting the warrant in the case of “am emergency posing an imminent threat to a person.”

Facial recognition results can be used in combination with other evidence to establish probable cause under Montana’s new law. If the technology is used in a case that goes to trial, law enforcement must inform the defendant.

The state motor vehicle division may only set up facial recognition for a mobile driver’s license program with the approval of the legislature.

Carve-outs to the prohibition on facial recognition use are also included for airports or borders.

Third-party vendors of facial recognition technology must inform individuals in writing that their biometric data is being collected or stored, the specific purpose and length of time data is being collected, stored or used for, and receive written consent to do so if they are going to capture or in any way obtain individuals’ data. The law also includes privacy policy requirements for vendors.

Public agencies are likewise required to have written use and privacy policies.

Penalties for negligent violations of the statute can result in fines of $1,000 or in the case of “actual damages” more, with action brought by the individual. The attorney general can also initiate enforcement action, with damages starting at $10,000.

The Act is effectively immediately, with existing contract arrangements having until January 1, 2024 to comply with the new requirements.

The use of facial recognition by police in the United States has been a consistent source of controversy, with several Black men wrongly identified across the country in recent years.

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