California Senate Passes Statewide Ban On Facial Recognition Tech Use By Law Enforcement

from the more-of-this-please dept

San Francisco has already banned the use of facial recognition tech by local law enforcement. Oakland did the same thing a couple of months later. Pretty soon, it’s not going to matter where you are in California. If you’re a law enforcement agency, facial recognition tech is off-limits. Here’s the latest news on the biometric front from the EFF.

A.B. 1215, authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting, prohibits the use of face recognition, or other forms of biometric technology, on a camera worn or carried by a police officer in California for three years. The Assembly passed an earlier version of the bill with a 45-17 vote on May 9. Today’s vote of the Senate was 22-15. We are pleased that the Senate has listened to the growing number of voices who oppose the way government agencies use face surveillance.

The bill doesn’t just ban facial recognition tech. It also targets other biometric surveillance methods that have been enjoying the side benefits of mission creep over the past several years.

(1) “Biometric data” means a physiological, biological, or behavioral characteristic that can be used, singly or in combination with each other or with other information, to establish individual identity.

(2) “Biometric surveillance system” means any computer software or application that performs facial recognition or other biometric surveillance.

(3) “Facial recognition or other biometric surveillance” means either of the following, alone or in combination:

(A) An automated or semiautomated process that captures or analyzes biometric data of an individual to identify or assist in identifying an individual.

(B) An automated or semiautomated process that generates, or assists in generating, surveillance information about an individual based on biometric data.

It forbids direct use by California law enforcement agencies, as well as prevents them from asking agencies outside the state (including federal agencies) from deploying this tech on their behalf. It also blocks state agencies from using cameras (body, dash, stationary) that utilize this tech.

If this bill is signed into law, California will become the first state to ban this tech. Existing bans by two major cities make this decision a whole lot easier and greases the logistical wheels for statewide deployment. In doing so, state legislators are showing they recognize the negative effects of unchecked surveillance deployment. Much of what the state is seeking to curb is listed on the bill’s statement of intent, which makes it clear this government isn’t willing to sacrifice its citizens and their freedoms to make law enforcement’s job a little easier.

The use of facial recognition and other biometric surveillance is the functional equivalent of requiring every person to show a personal photo identification card at all times in violation of recognized constitutional rights. This technology also allows people to be tracked without consent. It would also generate massive databases about law-abiding Californians, and may chill the exercise of free speech in public places.

In addition, facial recognition still isn’t great at the thing it’s supposed to do: recognize faces. Early adopters have been generally unconcerned about the tech’s unreliability, putting the onus on citizens and legislators to rein it in before it does any major damage. So far, California seems to be ahead of the curve, limiting its use prior to law enforcement rollout.

Other cities and states can do the same thing, but as it stands now, only three cities in the US have bans in place. And two of them are in California. Hopefully more legislation like this is on the way elsewhere — bans that put citizens ahead of government agencies and their innate desire to place the people they serve under surveillance.

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Comments on “California Senate Passes Statewide Ban On Facial Recognition Tech Use By Law Enforcement”

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Now if they will just add license plate scanners too."

License plate scanners have a purpose, mind. A vehicle is a transportation tool subject to a license and the movement of which is subject to numerous traffic laws and regulations. And the traffic plate scanner, used exclusively on roads, i would have no problem with.

Facial recognition tech, the use of which unavoidably carries incredibly bad side effects, especially if it were made to actually work, is an entirely different kettle of fish.

That sort of technology, if used by law enforcement, should be restricted to properly identifying actual suspects hauled in for questioning.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

"License plate scanners have a purpose"

Simply having a purpose does not in itself provide any sort of rationalization for its existence. Your rationalization is weak sauce.

How in the world did the pilgrims survive without all the wondrous up your bum surveillance bullshit? Well, I guess they spent a lot of time burning witches.

Anonymous Coward says:


Hopefully this law is legit, with no other hidden laws hidden within it or attached to it.

You know how they do:
"Facial recognition is illegal state wide" (but according to by law ‘$s192 all of your feces are belong to us’ – all state residents must submit monthly stool samples to their local hospitals before midnight PDT or face fines up to, but not exceeding, 10% of their yearly income.)

Anonymous Coward says:


What does the U.S. Gov website say about it?

“Biometric data” DNA

Oh, here is one—

The FBI provides a variety of services, information, and training involving biometrics—the measurable biological (anatomical and physiological) or behavioral characteristics used for identification of an individual.

Fingerprints are a common biometric modality, but others include things like DNA, irises, voice patterns, palmprints, and facial patterns.

In an effort to harness new technologies and improve identifications, the Bureau developed its Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, which provides the criminal justice community with the world’s largest and most efficient electronic repository of biometric and criminal history information.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m not so sure a law will stop any of this. As if the government has stayed within boundaries of the law in the past. Certainly with the disdain of the present administration towards anything resembling ethics I doubt they will adhere to anything written in law, they think they are above the law. Maybe it is time to show them just how wrong they are.

Anonymous Coward says:


The proposed regulation does not distinguish whether this is in connection with a crime or not. The title of the bill is about surveillance, but where do you draw the line between surveillance and a crime?

Does clothing, hats, glasses, shoes, pocketbooks, stroller, jewelry, etc. count as biometric data? They are not biological, but they ARE behavioral. A person’s skin color can "establish Individual identity," but so can the fact that a person has arms or legs. Does that count? Can they keep data of people with two legs, but not with one leg?

If a police body camera shows a man killing somebody and police are trying to identify who the man is, so they are not allowed to print out his picture and electronically compare it to a thousand mug shots of possible suspects for screening purposes, but they can pay somebody to visually look through them manually?

But if a witness has video or a picture of the criminal, then it’s OK to use biometrics? Because it wasn’t collected from an officer body cam, so that makes it OK?

The wording in this bill doesn’t make any sense.

Then they throw in something about fingerprints. Fingerprints are not collected from a body camera. Are we talking about finger prints here or are we talking about body cameras? They are two different things.

If we can talk about fingerprints, then why are we not also talking about DNA? Can police use fingerprint data collected on site to also collect DNA to use for a fishing expedition? Wouldn’t they be motivated to go around looking for people without an ID.

(d) This section does not preclude a law enforcement agency or law enforcement officer from using a mobile fingerprint scanning device during a lawful detention to identify a person who does not have proof of identification if this use is lawful and does not generate or result in the retention of any biometric data or surveillance information.


This doesn’t make sense either. What good is a fingerprint if you can’t retain the data to process it? Fingerprints, by definition, ARE biometric data. The FBI says it is, as shown above.

btr1701 (profile) says:

This technology also allows people to be tracked without consent.

And yet CA is proceeding apace to turn every freeway and major thoroughfare into an Orwellian fantasyland where every car is tracked, logged, and photographed everywhere you go in the state.

Seems like a rather schizophrenic approach to personal privacy and concerns about tracking people without consent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anyone get it??

No. They just cannot use facial recognition software to determine if the person was there.

The problem in general is not really about using this tech, but about using it responsibly. Law enforcement has repeatedly shown that they cannot use it responsibly, so like a child they get their toys taken away from them.

There are two major problems we are facing:

  1. Lying about effectiveness: They want it to be the only evidence they would have to present in order to put someone behind bars. People tend to fall for it because it is a machine and machines do not make human errors and can detect it so precisely that there is no doubt.
    Like I wrote, this is a lie. The application learns very much from its human developers (and those in law enforcement who set the parameters) and is often shown to be biased like a human. Combine this with a pretty lousy detection rate, it should never be used by itself in any court. It can be used combined with a lot of other evidence to make the picture clearer though.
  2. Surveillance creep: At first it will be serious crimes, but as time goes on it will inevitable creep towards smaller and smaller crimes as surveillance rises. Combine this with number 1 where people will believe whatever is spat out by the machine (or what it is manipulated to show) and we have the full recipe for a police state.

We could go even further and give the machine a crime recognition function. Even if it were perfect, I don’t want to live anywhere where all my smallest mistakes were punished. I probably break several small insignificant laws every week because I don’t know every single law in the books…. but a machine could.

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