#privacy: California lawmakers passes ban on facial recognition tech in police body cams


The three-year moratorium prohibits state and local law enforcement from using facial recognition technology.

The bill, AB215, also referred to as the Body Camera Accountability Act got voted by The State Assembly 42-18, and will now head to Governor Gavin Newsom who will decide on signing the bill to law. If he signs, it will go into effect January, 2020. 

Co-sponsored by Assembly member Phil Ting, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU), the bill prohibits the use of facial recognition technology being utilised on body cameras, and prohibits police from taking camera footage and running it through facial-recognition software. 

The bill however does not apply to federal agencies such as the FBI, and doesn’t prevent law enforcement from utilising facial-recognition technology in other ways. 

The moratorium comes in the midst of concerns about facial recognition in public spaces. Earlier this year, San Francisco became the first city of many to ban the use of facial recognition technology by local agencies. 

Ting commented that the bill would be critical in maintaining trust in communities. 

“If you install software onto those body cameras, then you run the risk of really destroying that trust,” Ting said to reporters. “It becomes a tool of surveillance, which was never the goal.”

Many privacy advocates have commented on how the technology endangers civil rights, with recent studies discovering that some facial recognition technology have struggled to identify the faces of women, young people and people of colour – thus prompting fears of unjust arrest.

Amazon and other companies have argued that facial recognition should not be banned, but rather regulated. Law enforcement have been the most vocal, with many police groups arguing that it prevents them from doing their job..

Riverside Sheriff’s Association wrote an analysis of the bill, and said that it “erroneously presumes that persons in public possess or are afforded a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Initially the bill was proposed to have no end, however it was amended by the state senate due to concerns that the technology will hopefully improve. 

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