Virginia lawmakers are reportedly planning to lift a police facial recognition ban less than a year after it was passed. The law was passed with strong bipartisan support last March, and prevented any local law enforcement organization from using facial recognition without express permission from the state legislator.
A new law, on the other hand, is far less restrictive. The bill allows law enforcement officers to use facial recognition during any active investigation to identify someone that is suspected of a crime, or to identify potential victims or witnesses.
When discussing the bill, Virginia lawmakers claimed that the original ban was an emergency stopgap designed to give them more time to consider the implications of facial recognition, and to craft legislation that would allow police to use the technology while still protecting individual privacy. In that regard, the revised legislation explicitly states that a facial recognition match is not sufficient grounds for a search warrant or an arrest. It also maintains the ban on broad public surveillance activities, and restricts the use of facial recognition to investigations in which the police already have reason to suspect the involvement of specific individuals.
The original legislation, on the other hand, was passed after The Virginian-Pilot found that many Virginia police officers had been using Clearview AI’s controversial facial recognition platform, often with a free trial and with virtually no official oversight. However, the company could potentially be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new legislation, and it is worth noting that Clearview hired six lobbyists to encourage Virginia lawmakers to legalize police facial recognition. To mitigate bias, the new bill only allows the police to use facial recognition software that has been rated 98 percent accurate (or better) in independent NIST testing, though Clearview would meet that threshold following its most recent evaluations.
The new legislation has not yet come to a vote in the Virginia House or Senate, though it has faced minimal opposition and enjoys broad bipartisan support. Maine and Massachusetts are some of the other states that have taken steps to curtail the police use of facial recognition.
Source: Virginia Mercury
February 14, 2022 – by Eric Weiss