Tucked into the police reform bill introduced by the House today are provisions for using body cameras along with a cursory rebuff of facial recognition, prompting privacy advocates to call for legislators to clarify that the technology should only be used for accountability, not surveillance.
“Any reform legislation should make clear that face recognition cannot be used on footage from the body cameras of federal law enforcement, and should similarly restrict federal funds from being used by local law enforcement agencies who do not implement the same restrictions,” ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani said in a statement. “We need to invest in technologies that can help eliminate the digital divide, not technologies that create a surveillance infrastructure that exacerbates policing abuses and structural racism."
House Democrats crafted the bill in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hand of Minneapolis police officers, who have since been arrested on an array of charges. In addition to addressing use of force and military grade weapons, the bill requires “uniformed officers with the authority to conduct searches and make arrests [to] wear a body camera” and specifies the circumstances under which officers must obtain consent – for instance, when entering a crime victim’s home – to continue recording.
The bill also includes considerable language on protecting privacy in the collection, storage and use of data and touches on First Amendment protections.
“Body cameras shall not be used to gather intelligence information based on First Amendment protected speech, associations, or religion, or to record activity that is unrelated to a response to a call for service or a law enforcement or investigative encounter between a law enforcement officer and a member of the public, and shall not be equipped with or subjected to any real time facial recognition technologies,” the proposed legislation says.
California earlier this last fall led the charge in banning the use of facial recognition technology in body cams, putting the nix on the technology for three years. The state’s Body Camera Accountability Act prohibits “a law enforcement agency or law enforcement officer from installing, activating or using any biometric surveillance system in connection with an officer camera or data collected by an officer camera,” the bill said, noting that it “would authorize a person to bring an action for equitable or declaratory relief against a law enforcement agency or officer who violates that prohibition.”