Washington state Senate passes bill to rein in facial recognition

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) dubbed 2019 the year that proved that ubiquitous recognition surveillance isn't inevitable. The latest (tentative) win for legislative restrictions on the increasingly pervasive technology: the state of Washington.

On Wednesday, the state passed a Bill 6280 – that would prohibit state and local government agencies from using facial recognition in most instances, including…

Ongoing surveillance – meaning tracking people as they move through public places over time, be it in real-time or through use of a service that relies on historical records.


Persistent tracking – which refers to the use of facial recognition to persistently track someone without first having identified them or verified their identity.

If passed, the law will require law enforcement to first get a search warrant before using those types of faceprint-reliant tracking and surveillance, or else would be limited to emergency situations in which people's lives are at risk.

From here, the bill goes to the state House for consideration.

The latest version of the bill specifies that at least 90 days before government agencies adopt a new facial recognition technology, they must inform the public about the technology in question – in detail.

Accountability reports would have to include the name of the technology, the vendor, what kind of data it collects and from where, how that data is processed, why and how it's going to be used, data or research that demonstrates its supposed benefits, whether it's going to be used by other agencies and how, data retention policy, how data will be securely stored and accessed, and how it's going to affect civil rights and liberties… to name a few.

It would be an understatement to say that this type of transparency would be a marked change from the secretive (and sometimes slapdash) way in which agencies have been adopting the technology to surveil people, often without the need for warrants.

SB 6280 would also require that decisions with legal implications that are based on facial-recognition programs be reviewed by an agency worker with training on the technology – someone with authority to reverse the decision, according to analysis (PDF) from the Washington senate committee on Environment, Energy and Technology.

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