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California has become the first state in the US to ban facial recognition tech use by local cops. Matt Cagle has more details on the ACLU-backed law.

Building on San Francisco’s first-of-its-kind ban on government face recognition, California this week enacted a landmark law that blocks police from using body cameras for spying on the public. The state-wide law keeps thousands of body cameras used by police officers from being transformed into roving surveillance devices that track our faces, voices, and even the unique way we walk. Importantly, the law ensures that body cameras, which were promised to communities as a tool for officer accountability, cannot be twisted into surveillance systems to be used against communities.

As Cagle points out, San Francisco was the first city in the nation to ban use of facial recognition by city agencies. Oakland followed closely behind. And all the way on the other side of the country, Somerville, Massachusetts became the second city in the US to enact a facial recognition ban.

This statewide ban will hopefully lead to others around the nation. The tech multiple companies are pushing government agencies to adopt is unproven, at best. The rate of false positives in live deployments is alarming. Just as alarming is the flipside: false negatives that allow the people, who law enforcement agents are actually looking for, to slip away. Despite this, everyone from the DHS to local police departments thinks this is the next wave of acceptable surveillance — one that allows government agencies to, in essence, demand ID from everyone who passes by their cameras.

The resistance to facial recognition’s seemingly-unchecked expansion is finally having some effect. Axon (formerly Taser) has temporarily halted its plans to introduce facial recognition tech into its body cameras and Google is stepping away from its development of this tech for government agencies. Unfortunately, Amazon has shown no desire to step away from the surveillance state precipice and is continuing to sell its own brand of facial recognition to law enforcement agencies as well as co-opting citizens’ doorways into its surveillance network with its Ring doorbell/cameras.

It’s a solid win for residents of the state. The ban blocks the use of facial recognition tech by state law enforcement until the end of 2022. It also blocks the use of other biometric surveillance tech and prevents law enforcement from using existing biometric data to feed any predictive policing tools agencies might be using or planning on implementing. With more states and cities willing to at least undertake serious discussions of the implications of facial recognition tech, it’s unlikely California will remain the odd state out in the biometric surveillance race.

Filed Under: california, facial recognition, gavin newsom, law enforcement

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