Communities called for police officers to carry or 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 and free speech.
If California Governor Gavin Newsom signs A.B. 1215 before October 13, he affirms California should take the opportunity to hit the brakes on police use of this troubling technology in the state. This gives legislators and citizens time to evaluate the dangers of face surveillance, and it prevents the threat of mass biometric surveillance from becoming the new normal.
No Face Recognition on Body-Worn Cameras
EFF joined a coalition of civil rights and civil liberties organizations to support A.B. 1215, authored by California Assemlymember 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 for three years.
This technology has harmful effects on our communities today. For example, face recognition technology has disproportionately high error rates for women and people of color. Making matters worse, law enforcement agencies conducting face surveillance often rely on images pulled from mugshot databases, which include a disproportionate number of people of color due to racial discrimination in our criminal justice system.
Ting’s bill, by targeting a particularly pernicious and 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, 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.”
A.B. 1215 clearly taps into widespread concern over face surveillance. The Assembly passed an earlier version of the bill with a 45-17 vote on May 9; the Senate in September sent it to the governor with a 22-15 vote. Lawmakers and community members across the country are advancing their own prohibitions and moratoriums on their local government’s use of face surveillance, including the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ historic May ban on government use of face recognition. Meanwhile, law enforcement use of face recognition has come under heavy criticism at the federal level by the House Oversight Committee and the Government Accountability Office.
We encourage people across the country to support bans in their own communities.
Tell Governor Newsom: Sign A.B. 1215 and listen to the growing number of voices that oppose government use of face surveillance.