California bill would regulate police use of facial recognition technology in body cams

A California assemblyman introduced a new bill to set parameters for how and when law enforcement officers can use facial recognition technology in body cameras.

"Rather than have every agency come up with their own set of standards, every jurisdiction do their own thing, we’re really proud to do something statewide," said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco).

Currently, there are no statewide restrictions on facial recognition technology, because Ting’s previous bill sunset in January of this year. Signed in 2019, the bill placed a three-year-ban on the technology.

The ban faced stiff opposition from law enforcement groups.

"Across the country, real world examples of law enforcement using facial recognition technology to solve major crimes showcases just how important this technology can be towards protecting our communities," said San Leandro police Chief Abdul Pridgen.

Pridgen is also a member of the California Police Chiefs Association. 

Ting and state Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) are working with the CPCA on AB 642, the Facial Recognition Privacy Act.

"Create standards, and safeguards governing the use of facial recognition technology," said Pridgen. "That both defends the public from misuse and privacy violations but allows law enforcement to use towards our public safety goals."

If passed the bill would prohibit the use of facial matches as the only reason for arrest or search, block the use of manually produced images, and prohibit use on the basis of a person's race, gender or religion.

"We want to make sure that when its used, it’s used right," said Bradford. "Because we have seen where people of color have been falsely identified as criminals."

Several Bay Area cities have banned police use of facial recognition including San Francisco, Oakland and Alameda.

Civil rights groups have opposed the use of the technology including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which released a statement that read in part, "…we believe face recognition technology in the hands of police and other government agencies presents an inherent threat to our privacy, free expression, information security, and social justice — and so government use should be banned."