The Maine state legislature has passed a new facial recognition law that now stands as one of the strictest of its kind in the country. The law prohibits the public use of facial recognition in all but a handful of situations, and will go into effect on October 1.
The new law was written to close some of the gaps in Maine’s previous facial recognition bill, which restricted law enforcement’s ability to conduct its own facial recognition searches. However, the police could still reach out to third parties to ask them to conduct informal, off-the-books searches on their behalf. That meant that the police were performing searches outside of official channels, with virtually no oversight on their use of the technology.
The new bill, on the other hand, explicitly states that the police cannot perform any facial recognition searches without first establishing probable cause, which is to say that they can only use it to identify a person who is believed to have committed a serious crime. The searches themselves must also be carried out by approved service providers like the FBI or the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). Those BMV searches are matters of public record, so the BMV will create an auditable log of police facial recognition requests.
The bill carves out an additional exception for fraud prevention, which allows the proactive use of facial recognition to guard against financial crime. Citizens, meanwhile, are given the right to bring legal action against the state if they are the victim of an unlawful search. The results of any such searches must be deleted, and cannot be used as evidence in a criminal investigation.
The right to sue distinguishes the Maine law from a similar bill in Washington state, which restricts facial recognition but has more lenient exceptions for law enforcement. Virginia and Massachusetts, meanwhile, have banned some uses of facial recognition, but still permit the use of the technology in schools and other public buildings. With that in mind, the ACLU praised the Maine legislature for taking a stronger stance against face-based surveillance.
“Maine is showing the rest of the country what it looks like when we the people are in control of our civil rights and civil liberties, not tech companies that stand to profit from widespread government use of face surveillance technology,” said ACLU of Maine lawyer Michael Kebede.
The Maine bill does not require the signature of Governor Janet Mills. The document is the most restrictive state-level bill, though comparable legislation has been passed at the county and municipal levels.
July 5, 2021 – by Eric Weiss