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Seattle’s King County becomes first U.S. county to ban government use of facial recognition software

RealNetworks’ SAFR arms faculties with facial recognition expertise. (SAFR Picture)

In a unanimous vote, the King County Council approved a ban on legislation enforcement use of facial recognition expertise, making it the primary county within the nation to place such restrictions into legislation.

Tuesday’s 9-Zero vote prohibits Seattle-area county administrative and govt places of work from utilizing facial recognition expertise or data to establish suspects or potential suspects. Privateness advocates have sought to ban using such expertise due to its diversified accuracy in figuring out suspects, algorithmic racial biases, and perceived encroachment on civil liberties.

Using facial recognition expertise by authorities companies poses distinct threats to our residents, together with potential misidentification, bias, and the erosion of our civil liberties,” King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles stated in an announcement.

Kohl-Welles added that facial recognition expertise has nice potential for misuse. “Our vote immediately makes King County the primary county within the nation to move the sort of ban,” she stated.

The ban doesn’t limit particular person cities, residents, or faculties inside King County from utilizing facial recognition expertise, solely official county authorities places of work. And it doesn’t limit county investigators from buying and selling data with different legislation enforcement companies so long as they didn’t particularly request data gleaned from facial recognition expertise.

In all, the laws accepted by the council is “pretty innocuous,” stated Os Keyes, a facial recognition professional within the College of Washington’s human-centered design and engineering division.

Keyes praised the laws as broad sufficient to assist defend civil liberties whereas being sufficiently slender that it doesn’t block respectable investigations. “It doesn’t restrict interagency cooperation,” they stated, “and it limits normal surveillance on a day-to-day foundation. It’s considerate and quick.”

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Facial recognition expertise — from government-enabled CCTV programs to Amazon’s Rekognition system — has develop into more and more controversial as privateness advocates assert it’s making a perpetual surveillance state. Amazon and Microsoft just lately renewed their bans on gross sales of such expertise to home legislation enforcement.

Keyes, a doctoral candidate on the college, stated the laws accomplishes two vital issues, one apparent and the opposite much less so however equally vital.

First, it prevents the county from organising a facial recognition digicam system all through the county. These aren’t merely video safety programs; they’re information gathering programs that interpret, analyze, and retailer facial information to alert authorities about potential suspects. However the tech is just not at all times correct, especially when parsing faces with darker complexions.

Second, Keyes stated, it helps halt the key electronic mail exchanges between investigators who ship pictures round for different companies to run by means of facial evaluation programs for departments that lack the expertise or have banned it.

“They’ve carried out this previously to evade the necessity for a warrant,” Keyes stated. “This isn’t hypothetical; they’d lengthy mailing lists to ship pictures round on an off-the-cuff foundation.”

Using a personal, legislation enforcement mailing listing designed for casual, particular sharing facial recognition tech in Washington state was documented in 2019 by the web site OneZero.

The “cross-department requests…consists of officers from a minimum of a dozen police departments, from giant organizations like the Seattle police and Pierce County Sheriff’s Department to smaller ones just like the Richland and Marysville police,” OneZero reported.

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Keyes stated the brand new invoice ought to stop the sort of sharing — a minimum of relating to King County legislation enforcement. Furthermore, they stated, it offers recourse if it continues. “It offers a right-of-action,” they stated. “So the one who is surveilled can sue.”

Cities akin to Portland and San Francisco have accepted such bans. The Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union applauded King County’s new restriction.

“With this vote, King County joins a rising variety of native jurisdictions throughout the nation which have accepted comparable restrictions,” Jennifer Lee of ACLU Washington stated in an announcement.

She added: “Now it’s time for a federal ban on authorities use of facial recognition to make sure that nobody’s civil liberties and civil rights are violated by a pervasive and sometimes inaccurate expertise that disproportionately misidentifies individuals of coloration and heightens the chance of surveillance and lethal encounters with legislation enforcement in already marginalized and overpoliced communities.”