Virginia lawmakers have officially lifted the state’s facial recognition ban. The legislature first prohibited the police use of facial recognition technology last March, but indicated that it would be replacing that blanket ban with a more nuanced one last month. In that regard, lawmakers suggested that the original ban had always been intended as a temporary stopgap to give them more time to review facial recognition technologies.
Those same lawmakers have now followed through on that promise with the passage of a new facial recognition bill, roughly eight months after the first one went into effect. The new bill once again allows the police to use facial recognition technology, but establishes clear guidelines about when that technology can be used, and what the police can use it for.
On that front, the police are primarily allowed to use facial recognition in the course of an investigation to identify a suspect, as long as they already have reason to believe that that person is involved with a crime. They can also use the technology in select cases to identify witnesses, victims, or bodies in the morgue. The bill goes on to state that a facial recognition match is not sufficient grounds for a warrant, and that the police must back up any matches with supporting evidence before asking for permission for a search or to make an arrest.
In practical terms, that means that the police can use facial recognition to develop leads, but cannot use the technology to close a case. To protect people’s civil liberties, the bill bars the police from using any surveillance or monitoring tools with facial recognition capabilities. Any solution the police purchase must achieve a 98 percent accuracy rating across all demographics in NIST testing to guard against racial bias and mitigate the chance of a false arrest.
Moving forward, the Virginia State Police are tasked to come up with a policy for the use of facial recognition. Local police departments are required to follow that policy, or to adopt an internal one that either meets or exceeds the state’s standards. The bill is now headed to the governor’s desk to await a signature to be passed into law.
Source: AP News
March 14, 2022 – by Eric Weiss