We all like a good facial recognition ban, and the state of Washington is the latest to (sort of) tee one up.
The Washington state legislature passed a bill establishing new guardrails on government use of facial recognition software.
The bill cleared both chambers of the state legislature Thursday, hours before the session ended, positioning Washington as one of the first states in the nation to regulate facial recognition, a key component in the larger legal debate over artificial intelligence. The bill now awaits Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.
Unfortunately, it's not a true ban. But it lays down a set of guidelines that will at least control its use by state agencies. The bill [PDF] requires regular reporting on use and intermittent testing for "fairness and accuracy." It also introduces something most states haven't: a warrant requirement for facial recognition use. This means facial recognition tech can't be an "always on" option for law enforcement.
The bill recognizes the threat facial recognition tech poses to the public.
Unconstrained use of facial recognition services by state and local government agencies poses broad social ramifications that should be considered and addressed. Accordingly, legislation is required to establish safeguards that will allow state and local government agencies to use facial recognition services in a manner that benefits society while prohibiting uses that threaten our democratic freedoms and put our civil liberties at risk.
It also mandates the development of data retention policies and the implementation of reporting and controls of other, non-state agency use of facial recognition tech owned by state entities. State agencies are also required to deliver the equivalent of Privacy Impact Assessments for any tech deployed.
A description of any potential impacts of the facial recognition service on civil rights and liberties, including potential impacts to privacy and potential disparate impacts on marginalized communities, and the specific steps the agency will take to mitigate the potential impacts and prevent unauthorized use of the facial recognition service.
While an outright ban (or at least a moratorium) would have been preferable, this is a positive development. It shows legislators recognize the multiple issues this tech poses and its tendency to exacerbate existing inequality problems by being seemingly incapable of accurately identifying anything other than white males.
If this bill becomes law, Washington will join a handful of cities (and one state!) around the country taking measures to protect residents from unproven tech that is swiftly becoming ubiquitous. Facial recognition tech is no longer the latest "rule of law" darling. It's increasingly being viewed as a threat to civil liberties -- not just by privacy advocates/activists, but by the people who actually can prevent their constituents from the steady creep of government surveillance.
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