California Legislature Passes Three-Year Ban on Facial Recognition Use with Police Body Cameras

Posted on December 11, 2019

Last week, the California State Assembly passed a bill that would bar any law enforcement agency in the state from using facial recognition technology in conjunction with body cameras for a period of three years. The bill, passed by a wide 42-18 margin, would make it illegal for any police force to apply facial recognition algorithms to body camera footage either live or after-the-fact.

Although the bill has not yet been signed into law, it is very likely that California Governor Gavin Newsom will approve the measure, and the fact that the legislature passed it with two-third support to begin with adds an extra degree of assurance that it will go into effect.

The passage of this prohibition is only the latest in a series of measures to limit facial recognition application by law enforcement, which California state and local governments have spearheaded. Specifically, this regulation joins even more stringent total bans on government use of facial recognition enacted in San Francisco and Oakland.

Notably, the bill also comes at a time when civil libertarians are dramatically stepping up their opposition to facial recognition, though the state regulation charts a cautious and conciliatory path in doing so. The authors of the California legislation noted that the three-year duration was a reduction from an initial seven-year one, and was intended to reassess the efficacy and impartiality of facial recognition upon assumed advances in technical sophistication in that time.

Considering the piecemeal adoption of facial recognition by law enforcement in other localities, there may not be a sufficient sample population for comparison at the conclusion of such a brief moratorium. The renewal of this measure or ultimate capitulation to law enforcement interests will, thus, depend on how the technology develops and, crucially, is actually employed around the country in that time, and to what effect.

For the full report from Al Jazeera, click here.