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Laurie Clarke

Reporter

Washington State approves stricter facial recognition regulations

Washington has become the latest US state to introduce stronger facial recognition regulation. Members of the state’s House of Representatives and the Senate reached a compromise yesterday on a set of rules to regulate the controversial tech. It could be a promising sign for privacy advocates given Washington State is recognised as a pioneer of new tech laws; it was the first state to introduce net neutrality rules. 

The newly introduced Senate Bill 6280 dictates that facial recognition technologies must be tested for accuracy and fairness – given the racial and gender biases exhibited by most facial recognition software today. Law enforcement agencies will have to secure a court order or a warrant to be able to deploy the tech. In addition, the bill calls for the formation of a task force to study how public agencies should use and deploy facial recognition technologies in Washington. 

It’s “one of the first and most comprehensive laws to regulate facial recognition technology in the nation,” according to lawmakers. 

“The agreement we reached is a sensible compromise,” said representative Debra Entenman, who sponsored a bill in the House that called for a three-year moratorium on the use of the technology. “I am confident that this bill now provides adequate guardrails for this emerging technology. It will mandate community input in how facial recognition technology is used and ensure that any use by the government is thoroughly vetted for accuracy, necessity, and fairness.”

The bill follows the state of California banning the tech outright for three years in October 2019 for the express purpose of stalling an encroaching police state. Oregon and New Hampshire have also banned the tech’s use in police body cameras.

The EU, meanwhile, initially mooted a five year moratorium while potential abuses of the tech could be considered. However, it later back-pedalled on this idea. The final version of the European Union Commission’s White Paper on Artificial Intelligence (published February 19), bore no mention of the ban, reportedly due to fears that it would stifle innovation and compromise national security. 

Around the same time, internal European Union documents leaked to the Intercept demonstrated an appetite for an EU-wide facial recognition network that could track criminals between countries. The report, drawn up by the national police forces of ten EU member states, calls for the introduction of EU legislation to interconnect police databases across the bloc.

The UK has taken a decidedly gung-ho approach to the surveillance technology, with the tech being deployed in public spaces in recent weeks. In a speech in February, the head of Met Police, Cressida Dick, called critics of the technology “ill-informed” and “inaccurate”, essentially shutting down debate despite independent research indicating that the algorithms used by UK police are accurate a mere 19 per cent of the time. Privacy organisations have continued to rail against the normalisation of the tech.