A Utah State Senate committee has advanced a bill that would place some relatively mild restrictions on the government’s use of facial recognition. The bill will now move to the full Senate, where it will receive further consideration.
According to proponents, bill SB34 essentially codifies the state’s existing facial recognition guidelines. The Utah Department of Public Safety established those guidelines in October, though they were described as internal best practices rather than binding legislation.
The new bill would seek to make those rules official, adding a layer of transparency and accountability to the state’s use of facial recognition. To that end, police would need to submit a written request before using facial recognition during an investigation, and that request would need to show that there is a good chance that the subject of that investigation is connected to the crime in some way. The technology could only be used during felony investigations, in situations in which there is a direct threat to human life, and to identify someone who is dead or incapacitated and cannot prove their identity on their own.
As it stands, the state uses its database of driver’s license images to conduct facial recognition services. The new bill would force government employees to disclose that the photos will be used during facial recognition searches when residents apply for a driver’s license, but would not give those residents any way to opt out of the practice. As a result, privacy advocates argue that it will do nothing to limit the police use of facial recognition, though they did support the bill on the grounds that some restrictions are better than none.
“Any attempts by the state to get at the real problems around facial recognition technology would need to be much more expansive,” said Marina Lowe, the legislative and policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. “If this bill passes, this is the first step and there should be a lot more work done to address the root problems.”
In that regard, privacy advocates noted that the bill does not address the use of facial recognition in surveillance cameras and police body cams, nor does it address searches outside of official police channels. It also does not have sufficient safeguards to mitigate racial and gender bias. The bill states that two trained officers are needed to confirm a match, but matches based on a biased algorithm could still influence those results.
Utah state officials have been trying to increase transparency since they were forced to acknowledge the use of facial recognition, and the fact that the state shares information with other law enforcement agencies, including ICE and the FBI. The Utah bill is much weaker than the bans that have been implemented in other cities, and the revised bill being considered in Massachusetts.
Source: The Salt Lake Tribune
January 26, 2021 – by Eric Weiss