Capitol Alert

Should police be able to recognize your face? California considers plan to ban the technology

Video captures fatal police shooting of Grover Beach man

Police officer body camera footage of the July 2017 fatal shooting of 58-year-old Grover Beach, California, man Kenneth Eustace was released to The Tribune following implementation of a new transparency law.
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Police officer body camera footage of the July 2017 fatal shooting of 58-year-old Grover Beach, California, man Kenneth Eustace was released to The Tribune following implementation of a new transparency law.

California lawmakers are considering a plan to prevent police departments from using facial recognition technology on body cameras.

The proposal from Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, cleared the Assembly earlier this month, and San Francisco took a first step earlier this week toward banning the use of facial recognition software by all city departments.

“Body camera technology was meant to provide more transparency, not be taxpayer-funded surveillance,” Ting said. “We have decided to live in a free state, and I don’t think taxpayers should fund technology that makes us live in a police state.”

Ting’s idea comes in response to public outrage over recent officer-involved shootings. He worries flawed facial recognition software in body cameras could cause officers to misidentify suspects.

He’s unaware of specific police departments using the technology, but says his proposal would protect privacy in cities that choose to deploy the facial recognition software in the future.

“I’m trying to be proactive, not reactive,” Ting said. “I didn’t want to be in a situation where we were reacting to something.”

While the plan has gained support from privacy advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, some law enforcement groups worry the bill would make it more difficult for officers to do their job and crack down on criminals.

David Livingston, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, said it could also hurt public safety.

“Facial recognition, when used in public spaces, can be a powerful tool in enhancing public safety, identifying wanted criminals and deterring criminal activity,” Livingston said in a statement. “This technology should not be rejected by the state or any other governmental agency without careful consideration of the adverse impacts that decision may have on public safety.”

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