Virginia Bill Would Expand Police Use of Facial Recognition Technology / Public News Service

Virginia lawmakers are investigating a bill that would allow police to use face recognition technology in certain cases a year after the General Assembly passed a measure that curtails the practice.

The proposal was approved by the Senate earlier this week. This will allow the police to use face recognition technology only when investigating a specific criminal incident or situation in the well-being of citizens.

Senator Scott Surwell, D-Fairfax, said the evidence gathered through face recognition technology could only be used to justify, not to establish probable reasons for the arrest.

“You can’t use it for widespread surveillance or monitoring,” Surovel argued. “You have to have a specific case that you’re looking at, or you have to have a person in a hospital bed and you don’t know who he is and you’re trying to find out who’s there, or you have a dead body, and you’re trying to find out who it was, and on them there is no certificate, or anything else. “

Last February, the General Assembly passed a bill banning police from using face recognition technology unless it receives prior legislative approval, a move the Associated Press called “one of the most restrictive bans in the country.” Opponents of face recognition technology, including many Republicans who are legislators, argue that it is an invasion of privacy and a propensity for inaccuracy and abuse.

A 2019 report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that Asians and black people are much more likely to be identified using facial recognition technology. The bill requires that any face recognition technology used by the police be at least 98% accurate for all demographics.

Hanover Sen. Ryan McDougall expressed concern in the Senate Tuesday that the technology could still be misused.

“There are no penalties in this bill, even subject to policies and restrictions, if you violate it,” McDougall said.

The measure will also require departments to record requests in their face recognition software and then publish a public usage report at the end of each year. Following its adoption by the Senate, the bill is now being sent to the House of Representatives and its committees for further discussion.

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