Virginia Bill to Put De Facto Ban on Facial Recognition Tech

Starting July 1, a de facto ban on use of facial recognition technology will go into effect across Virginia, meaning that most police departments will not be allowed to use or buy it without legislative approval first.

An abstract image of facial recognition being used on a crowd.
(TNS) — Starting July 1, a de facto ban on use of facial-recognition technology will go into effect across Virginia, meaning that most police departments will not be allowed to use or buy it without legislative approval first.

House Bill 2031, sponsored by Del. Lashrecse D. Aird, D-Petersburg, had cleared the General Assembly during its winter session this year, but Gov. Ralph S. Northam sent it back with an amendment to exclude commercial airport police services. On Wednesday, during its annual reconvened session, both the House of Delegates and state Senate agreed to the governor’s amendment, putting a bow on the legislation.

Facial-recognition technology converts images into algorithms that is then used to determine if the person’s face matches any within specific databases. Some mobile phones use facial-recognition to unlock, but the technology addressed by Aird’s bill would apply to tech used by police or sheriff’s departments, including campus police departments.

House Bill 2031 would not allow police departments to buy or use the technology without getting the legislature to approve it.

In addition to airport police forces, the ban also would not cover the Virginia State Police.

The House agreed to Northam’s amendment on a 99-1 vote, with the only dissenting coming from Republican Del. C. Matthew Farriss of Campbell County. The amendment passed the Senate unanimously.

In its original introduction, the restriction on facial-recognition technology would have been lifted only if local government agreed to do so. In the Senate, however, Republican Ryan McDougle of Hanover County pushed through an amendment to make the approval have to come from the General Assembly rather than a city council or county board of supervisors.

Police lobbyists provided little resistance to the measure in both of its legislative journeys.

(c)2021 The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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