California Senate Votes to Block Face Recognition on Police Body Cameras

September 11, 2019 5:45 pm

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SACRAMENTO – The California Senate today passed The Body Camera Accountability Act, legislation imposing a state-wide, three-year ban on law enforcement use of face recognition surveillance on officer-worn body cameras. Pending an Assembly concurrence vote, the legislation would next head to the governor’s desk.

“Face-scanning police body cameras have no place on our streets, where they can be used for dragnet surveillance of people going about their private lives, including their locations and personal associations,” said Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “With this bill, California is poised to become one of the first states in the country to prevent its residents from becoming test subjects for an invasive tracking technology proven to be fundamentally incompatible with civil liberties and human rights. Other states should follow suit.”

Throughout the country and across the world, concerns over use of face recognition software have mounted in recent years. San Francisco, Oakland, and Somerville recently enacted bans on government use of face surveillance, and similar bans are currently under consideration in cities across the country. These initiatives are part of the ACLU’s Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) effort, which is designed to ensure residents — through their local governments and elected officials — are empowered to decide if and how surveillance technologies are used, and to promote government transparency with respect to surveillance technologies.

Recognizing the dangers of mixing police body cameras and facial recognition technology, technology companies themselves have drawn a line in the sand. Axon, a prominent body camera manufacturer, announced in June that it would not add facial recognition to its body camera systems for the foreseeable future. Among other companies, Microsoft has also refused to allow a California law enforcement agency to use its facial recognition technology with police body cameras, citing human rights concerns.

The Body Camera Accountability Act (AB 1215) is supported by a wide coalition of organizations led by the ACLU of California. The organizations include the Center for Media Justice, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Color of Change, Council on American-Islamic Relations – California, Data for Black Lives, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, Media Alliance, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Center for Lesbian Rights, RAICES, Transgender Law Center, Library Freedom Project, Tor Project, and X-Lab.

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