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California is poised to ban the use of facial recognition technology in police body cameras for three years after votes by the state legislature this week.

AB 1215 passed the state Senate 22-15 on Wednesday and the state Assembly 47-21 on Thursday. It has been sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom for signing.

Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, introduced the bill, citing inaccurate identification and apparent racial biases in the current state of the technology.

The American Civil Liberties Union ran every California legislature member through a mugshot database, which falsely identified 26 lawmakers, including Ting.

Ting said that more than half of the people falsely identified were members of racial minorities.

Ting said in a statement:

“Without my bill, facial recognition technology essentially turns body cameras into a 24-hour surveillance tool, giving law enforcement the ability to track our every movement.” 

SFPD body cameras
Hannah Albarazi/Bay City News San Francisco, Calif. police Sgt. Tad Yamaguchi displays a body-mounted camera at a press conference in 2015.

Ting said:

“Let’s not become a police state and keep body cameras as they were originally intended — to provide police accountability and transparency.” 

The statewide ban on use in body cameras follows citywide bans of facial recognition technology passed this year in Oakland and San Francisco. Those go a step beyond Ting’s bill and ban any use of the technology by city government.

Ting’s bill would only ban its use in body cameras, so other uses of the technology, such as a mugshot database operated by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office and accessible to law enforcement agencies through the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, would remain available.

It’s not likely that most body cameras would use facial recognition technology anytime soon. Axon, the largest manufacturer of police body cameras, decided in June not to implement facial recognition software in its products, citing flaws in the current state of the technology. However, the company left the door open to equipping body cameras with facial recognition in the future.

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