Technology Seattle’s King County becomes first U.S. county to ban government use of facial recognition software
King County ban on police use of facial recognition software spotlights local movements across US
As federal legislation on law enforcement's use of facial recognition software stalls, dozens of cities and counties are taking measures into their own hands.The move was notable for a number of reasons. The ACLU of Washington said in a statement that the new King County ban on police use of facial recognition software was the first in the country to be county-wide and cover multiple cities.
In a unanimous vote, the King County Councilon law enforcement use of facial recognition technology, making it the first county in the nation to put such restrictions into law.
Tuesday’s 9-0 vote prohibits Seattle-area county administrative and executive offices from using facial recognition technology or information to identify suspects or potential suspects. Privacy advocates have sought to ban the use of such technology because of its varied accuracy in identifying suspects, algorithmic racial biases, and perceived encroachment on civil liberties.
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“The use of facial recognition technology by government agencies poses distinct threats to our residents, including potential misidentification, bias, and the erosion of our civil liberties,” King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles said in a statement.
Kohl-Welles added that facial recognition technology has great potential for misuse. “Our vote today makes King County the first county in the nation to pass this type of ban,” she said.
The ban does not restrict individual cities, citizens, or schools within King County from using facial recognition technology, only official county government offices. And it does not restrict county investigators from trading information with other law enforcement agencies as long as they did not specifically request information gleaned from facial recognition technology.
Should the police have facial recognition tech?
Local governments, including King county in Washington state, are passing laws to curb the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement.The new measure flies in the face of Washington state’s lenient facial recognition law, which was authored by a Microsoft employee and passed last year, and brings a challenge on an emerging set of technologies to greater Seattle, the home of both Microsoft and Amazon, two tech giants that sell facial recognition software.
In all, the legislation approved by the council is “fairly innocuous,” said Os Keyes, a facial recognition expert in the University of Washington’s human-centered design and engineering department.
Keyes praised the legislation as broad enough to help protect civil liberties while being sufficiently narrow that it does not block legitimate investigations. “It doesn’t limit interagency cooperation,” they said, “and it limits general surveillance on a day-to-day basis. It’s thoughtful and short.”
Facial recognition technology — from government-enabled CCTV systems tosystem — has become increasingly controversial as privacy advocates assert it is creating a perpetual surveillance state. Amazon and Microsoft to domestic law enforcement.
Keyes, a doctoral candidate at the university, said the legislation accomplishes two significant things, one obvious and the other less so but equally important.
Washington's largest county bans government use of facial recognition software
The most populous county in Washington state has become the first in the nation to ban government use of facial recognition software. Your browser does not support this video King County, which comprises the greater Seattle area and is home to some 2.3 million people, announced Tuesday that a proposal to ban government agencies use of facial recognition software had been approved by a vote of 9-0.
First, it prevents the county from setting up a facial recognition camera system throughout the county. These are not simply video security systems; they are data gathering systems that interpret, analyze, and store facial data to alert authorities about potential suspects. But the tech is not always accurate,.
Second, Keyes said, it helps halt the secret email exchanges between investigators who send photos around for other agencies to run through facial analysis systems for departments that lack the technology or have banned it.
“They have done this in the past to evade the need for a warrant,” Keyes said. “This is not hypothetical; they had long mailing lists to send photos around on an informal basis.”
The use of a private, law enforcement mailing list designed for informal, specific sharing facial recognition tech in Washington state was documented in 2019 by the website.
The “cross-department requests…includes officers from at least a dozen police departments, from largeto smaller ones like the Richland and Marysville police,” OneZero reported.
Washington State County Becomes First in US to Ban Facial Recognition Software Over Concerns of Racism
King County's ban on facial recognition software is "an important step forward in the effort to stop government use of this harmful and racist technology," said Jennifer Lee from ACLU Washington.A "groundbreaking" proposal for the ban was approved Tuesday by the King County Council to protect the county's 2.3 million citizens' freedoms from government surveillance since studies revealed "facial recognition software is often far more likely to misidentify Black or Asian faces, especially Black women," the council announced in a statement.
Keyes said the new bill should prevent this type of sharing — at least when it comes to King County law enforcement. Moreover, they said, it provides recourse if it continues. “It provides a right-of-action,” they said. “So the person who is surveilled can sue.”
Cities such as Portland and San Francisco have approved such bans. The Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union applauded King County’s new restriction.
“With this vote, King County joins a growing number of local jurisdictions across the nation that have approved similar restrictions,” Jennifer Lee of ACLU Washington said in a statement.
She added: “Now it’s time for a federal ban on government use of facial recognition to ensure that no one’s civil liberties and civil rights are violated by a pervasive and often inaccurate technology that disproportionately misidentifies people of color and heightens the risk of surveillance and deadly encounters with law enforcement in already marginalized and overpoliced communities.”
Amazon extends ban on police use of its facial recognition software .
Two years ago reports revealed that Amazon was providing facial recognition software for use by police departments, even as questions arose about the bias, privacy and potentially life-destroying errors that could result. A year ago Amazon announced a one year moratorium on such use of its Rekognition platform, and now Reuters reports that instead of letting the ban expire, Amazon has extended it "until further notice." In a statement, ACLUIn a statement, ACLU deputy director Nathan Wessler said "Face recognition technology fuels the over-policing of Black and Brown communities, and has already led to the false arrests and wrongful incarcerations of multiple Black men.