Civil Liberties Group Advocates Stopping Facial Recognition

A civil rights watchdog has asked law enforcement in San Diego to quit using facial recognition tech, citing impending change to state law that will temporarily bar officers from collecting and using biometric data.

by Teri Figueroa, The San Diego Union-Tribune / October 24, 2019

(TNS) — A civil rights watchdog on Wednesday asked San Diego law enforcement officials to quit using facial recognition technology, citing a impending change to state law that will temporarily bar officers from collecting and using biometric data.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sent a letter to the San Diego Association of Governments asking the agency to “begin the process immediately to suspend this fatally flawed program that threatens the civil liberties of people in California.”

The agency, known as SANDAG, oversees the system that local agencies use to access facial recognition technology. Essentially, the system allows some officers to take pictures of people and compare them to the agency’s database of mugshots — some 1.8 million mugshots, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The civil rights group’s request comes two weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1215, requiring policing agencies to hit the pause button on biometric surveillance involving “officer cameras.”

AB 1215 sets a three-year moratorium, from January to the start of 2023, prohibiting law enforcement from “installing, activating, or using any biometric surveillance system” in connection with cameras used by officers.

On Wednesday, SANDAG issued a statement that it and the Automated Regional Justice Information System, or ARJIS, are aware of the legislation, and they “will work closely with our law enforcement partners to assure compliance with this and all other pertinent laws as they are enacted.”

San Diego police spokesman Sgt. Matthew Botkin said the department only uses the technology to help officers identify people who are unwilling or unable to provide proof of their identity. He said the department will consult its attorneys for guidance in responding in accordance to the new law.

Electronic Frontier Foundation investigative researcher Dave Maass penned the letter to SANDAG, and also authored a blog posted Wednesday on the group’s website, laying out which local agencies access the facial recognition data and how often.

In 2018, according to Maass’ post, San Diego County-area law enforcement agencies asked to use the facial recognition technology more than 25,000 times.

In addition to the Sheriff’s Department and police departments throughout the region, many other law enforcement agencies have access to the technology through SANDAG.

According to Maass, users include community college and university police departments, at least one tribal police agency and several federal agencies, among them Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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