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California Assembly OKs Facial Recognition Ban in Body Cameras

Sept. 13, 2019, 12:21 AM

California would bar law enforcement from using facial recognition technology in body cameras until after 2023, under legislation heading to the governor’s desk.

The state Assembly Sept. 12 approved a final change to the Body Camera Accountability Act (A.B. 1215), which would stop law enforcement agencies and officers from installing, activating, or using “any biometric surveillance system in connection with an officer camera or data collected by an officer camera,” according to a legislative summary.

The technology ban would sunset three years after it takes effect in January 2020, under a change that the state Senate approved Sept. 12 and the Assembly approved in a concurrence vote. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) has until Oct. 13 to sign or veto the measure.

“Without my bill, facial recognition technology essentially turns body cameras into a 24-hour surveillance tool, giving law enforcement the ability to track our every movement,” Assemblymember Phil Ting (D) said in a statement.

The move comes at a time when a growing number of law enforcement officers wear body cameras to increase their accountability on the job. Civil liberties and privacy advocates have warned about the potential for misusing facial recognition data, raising concerns about inherent bias and inaccuracies.

“Face-scanning police body cameras have no place on our streets, where they can be used for dragnet surveillance of Californians, our locations, and our personal associations,” said Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, in a statement.

Ting originally sought a permanent ban. He agreed to sunset the legislation after seven years, and then three years, after hearing from lawmakers who wanted the opportunity to revisit the matter if facial recognition technology improves.

Supporters include the statewide and Northern California ACLU chapters, Color of Change, Data for Black Lives, and the California Public Defenders Association. But law enforcement groups, including the California State Sheriffs’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association, oppose the measure.

Oregon and New Hampshire already have measures prohibiting facial recognition technology in body cameras, and three cities recently have banned government use of facial recognition tech.

—With assistance from Laura Mahoney

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Merken in Washington at smerken@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloomberglaw.com; Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com

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