MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Feb 2, 2022) – Yesterday, the Alabama Senate unanimously passed a bill that would place limits on law enforcement use of facial recognition. The proposed law would not only help protect privacy in Alabama; it could also hinder one aspect of the federal surveillance state.
Sen. Arthur Orr (R) introduced Senate Bill 56 (SB56) on Jan. 11, along with a bipartisan coalition of five Republicans and two Democrats. The legislation would require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant “to engage in ongoing surveillance, to conduct real-time or near real-time identification, or to start persistent tracking” using facial recognition or artificial intelligence with just a few exceptions. This would effectively ban the use of facial recognition technology to scan crowds, streets, or neighborhoods.
SB56 includes a few exceptions to the warrant requirement. Police could use facial recognition if exigent circumstances exist or under a court order for locating a missing person. The bill would prohibit using facial recognition results as the sole basis to establish probable cause in a criminal investigation or to make an arrest. It would also bar using facial recognition with a sketch or other manually produced image.
On Tuesday, the full Senate passed the bill by a vote of 30-0.
While passage into law would not end government use of facial recognition in Alabama, it would place significant limits on the technology and prevent ongoing surveillance using facial recognition.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROGRAMS
A 2019 report revealed that the federal government has turned state drivers’ license photos into a giant facial recognition database, putting virtually every driver in America in a perpetual electronic police lineup. The revelations generated widespread outrage, but the story wasn’t new. The federal government has been developing a massive facial recognition system for years.
The FBI rolled out a nationwide facial recognition program in the fall of 2014, with the goal of building a giant biometric database with pictures provided by the states and corporate friends.
In 2016, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law released “The Perpetual Lineup,” a massive report on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology in the U.S. You can read the complete report at perpetuallineup.org. The organization conducted a year-long investigation and collected more than 15,000 pages of documents through more than 100 public records requests. The report paints a disturbing picture of intense cooperation between the federal government, and state and local law enforcement to develop a massive facial recognition database.
“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight. But those controls, by and large, don’t exist today,” report co-author Clare Garvie said. “With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”
Despite the outrage generated by these reports, Congress has done nothing to roll back this facial recognition program.