Communities called for police officers to wear cameras with the hope that doing so would improve police accountability, not further mass surveillance. But today, we stand at a crossroads. Face recognition technology is now capable of being interfaced with body-worn cameras in real-time—a development that has grave implications for privacy, free speech, and racial justice.
California: No Face Recognition on Body-Worn Cameras
That is why we have joined a coalition of civil rights and civil liberties organizations to support A.B. 1215, authored by California Assemblymember Phil Ting. This bill would prohibit the use of face recognition, or other forms of biometric technology, on a camera worn or carried by a police officer.
Ting’s bill, by targeting a particularly harmful application of face surveillance, is crucial not only to curbing mass surveillance, but also to facilitating better relationships between police officers and the communities they serve. As EFF activist Nathan Sheard told the California Assembly last month, using face recognition technology “in connection with police body cameras would force Californians to decide between actively avoiding interaction and cooperation with law enforcement, or having their images collected, analyzed, and stored as perpetual candidates for suspicion.”
The Assembly passed the bill with a 45-17 vote on May 9, and it is now before the Senate.
Bans on government use of face surveillance have gathered support and momentum across the country. San Francisco in May banned city use of face surveillance. This month, Oakland, Calif. and Somerville, Mass. have both taken crucial steps toward adopting similar bans, with both measures now headed for full city council votes. Massachusetts is also considering a statewide moratorium on government use of face surveillance.
Meanwhile, law enforcement face recognition has come under heavy criticism at the federal level by the House Oversight Committee and the Government Accountability Office.
A.B. 1215 reflects widespread concern over face surveillance. Please urge your lawmakers to support this bill. We should not transform a tool intended to improve police accountability into a mass biometric surveillance network.