Washington state Senate passes bill to regulate governmentsâ use of facial-recognition technology
By Bing Chat Mode
OLYMPIA â Washington state senators Wednesday approved a bill that would begin regulating the use of facial-recognition programs by local and state governments.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, is one of a series of legislative proposals this year to counter technology that is evolving fast, regulated little and all but opaque to most residents.
Facial recognition has been a particular concern, with worries that its use by law enforcement comes before the programs even can accurately identify people. A landmark federal study released in December found that facial-recognition programs were misidentifying people of color more often than white people; women more often than men; and children and elderly people more often than people in other age ranges.
The bill now goes to the House for consideration.
What does the bill do
The bill, Senate Bill 6280, would prohibit state and local government agencies from using facial recognition for ongoing surveillance in most instances. That surveillance would be allowed in support of law enforcement with a search warrant or an agency directorâs determination under some conditions, such as an emergency that involves risk of death.
The bill would also require that any decisions made based on facial-recognition programs that have a legal impact be reviewed by an agency worker with training on facial recognition who has authority to change the decision. Examples of such decisions include the granting or denying of financial loans, housing, health care or employment opportunities.
The bill would require programs that have a legal impact to be tested by governments before being deployed. It would set training standards for government employees handling personal data gleaned from facial recognition.
The bill would also require governments to issue annual reports disclosing how they use facial recognition and to hold community meetings on the reports.
Why is it important
Supporters of the bill say it is a necessary step to protect civil liberties and privacy rights in the age of artificial intelligence. They argue that facial recognition can be used for mass surveillance, racial profiling, identity theft and other harms if left unchecked.
Opponents of the bill say it is too restrictive and could hamper legitimate uses of facial recognition for public safety and security. They contend that facial recognition can help solve crimes, find missing persons, prevent fraud and enhance convenience.
The bill has drawn support from some tech companies, such as Microsoft, which has developed its own facial-recognition program and has called for federal regulation of the technology. The bill has also drawn opposition from some civil-rights groups, such as the ACLU of Washington, which has advocated for a moratorium on government use of facial recognition until stronger safeguards are in place.
The bill faces an uncertain future in the House, where some lawmakers have instead wanted to temporarily stop governments from using facial recognition. Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent, sponsored one such proposal, House Bill 2856, which would prohibit facial-recognition programs by local and state government until July 1, 2023. The bill passed a committee vote earlier this month but did not get a vote of the full House by a key deadline Wednesday.
Entenman described the debate over facial recognition as a question of fundamental privacy rights, and âabout having a technology that is not ready to be used in the public sphere.â
Sources: The Seattle Times, GovTech, GeekWire aa16f39245