Technology Washington State County Becomes First in US to Ban Facial Recognition Software Over Concerns of Racism
Facial recognition tech is supporting mass surveillance. It's time for a ban, say privacy campaigners
A group of 51 organizations has written an open letter to European commissioners calling for the ban of all deployments of facial recognition tools that can snoop on citizens.Comprising activist groups from across the continent, such as Big Brother Watch UK, AlgorithmWatch and the European Digital Society, the call was chaperoned by advocacy network the European Digital Rights (EDRi) in the form of an open letter to the European commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders.
King County in Washington is the first U.S. county to ban government use of facial recognition software over concerns of racism and demographic biases.
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.
States push back against use of facial recognition by police
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have used facial recognition technology to solve homicides and bust human traffickers, but concern about its accuracy and the growing pervasiveness of video surveillance is leading some state lawmakers to hit the pause button. At least seven states and nearly two dozen cities have limited government use of the technology amid fears over civil rights violations, racial bias and invasion of privacy. Debate over additional bans, limits and reporting requirements has been underway in about 20 state capitals this legislative session, according to data compiled by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
"The use of this technology is invasive, intrusive, racially biased and full of risks to fundamental civil liberties," said King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove. "I am proud to sponsor this ban, which is supported by local community groups, public defenders, immigrants' rights advocates, racial justice organizations, workers' rights groups, privacy advocates and technologists."
King County is one of the largest jurisdictions in the U.S. where millions live within and around the city of Seattle, the county seat.
The legislation to ban the use of facial recognition software was sponsored by King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles and was approved unanimously by a 9-0 vote.
"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," Kohl-Welles said "The use or misuse of these technologies has potentially devastating consequences which the new ordinance will help to prevent."
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The King County Sheriff's office will also be prohibited from the use of the software. The sheriff's office had never used the technology before and previously supported the ban, a spokesperson toldaffiliate KING 5.
The only exception for the technology's use is for complying with the National Child Search Assistance Act.
Civil rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) praised King County's ban on facial recognition software.
Jennifer Lee from ACLU Washington said the ban was a "huge win" for residents of the county and "an important step forward in the effort to stop government use of this harmful and racist technology."
She called for a federal ban on government use of facial recognition and said the technology is "often inaccurate" as it "disproportionately misidentifies people of color and heightens the risk of surveillance and deadly encounters with law enforcement in already marginalized and overpoliced communities."
Human Rights Commission calls for a freeze on 'high-risk' facial recognition
Until protections around the use of such technologies are in place, the Australian Human Rights Commission has asked for a moratorium on the use of biometrics, including facial recognition, in 'high-risk' areas. It has also recommended the creation of an AI Safety Commissioner.The call was made in a 240-page report [PDF] from the AHRC, with outgoing Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow saying Australians want technology that is safe, fair, and reliable, and technology that with the right settings in law, policy, education, and funding, the government, alongside the private sector, can "build a firm foundation of public trust in new technology".
Brianna Auffray, a legal and policy manager at CAIR Washington, said the rest of the state and the nation should follow the actions of King County.
"Facial recognition is consistently used to target Muslims around the world, as well as to quell our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, religion, and association," she said.
King County Executive Dow Constantine will sign the approved legislation on the ban into law, according to the Seattle Times.
Some U.S. cities, such as Boston, Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, currently have similar bans on the use of facial recognition technology.
This Washington county is the first to ban facial recognition technology, official says .
A county in Washington state banned all local government agencies -- including the local sheriff -- from using facial recognition technology. © Ted S. Warren/AP Privacy advocates and justice activists have criticized The King County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to prohibit its administrative offices from using software applications that identify a person from an image of their face.