Washington state enacts regulations on facial recognition technology

Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE)
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Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE)

CEP Magazine (June 2020)

In a move that will likely influence many other states, and perhaps the federal government, the state of Washington’s governor, Jay Inslee, signed a bill[1] into law that regulates the use of facial recognition technology. The Wall Street Journal summarizes some of the law’s requirements in their exclusive daily report on artificial intelligence below:[2]

  • “Under the new law, if a government agency wants to use facial recognition, it has to first give public notice, hold at least three community meetings and publish a report outlining the technology’s potential impact on civil liberties.

  • “Police could use facial recognition for ongoing surveillance or real-time identification of people, but they will need a warrant or court order first.

  • “The technology can’t be used to make significant government decisions without ‘meaningful human review,’ and government employees must be trained on the technology’ s limitations.”

Facial recognition technology is controversial and has been the subject of regulatory debates around the world. Some countries, such as China, have experimented with widespread use of the technology, while the European Union has approached the topic from the perspective of personal privacy and individual safety. The Washington bill purports to take all of these into consideration.

In a March 31 blogpost,[3] Microsoft President Brad Smith lauded the rule as a “breakthrough.” Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, participated in the drafting of the rule through consultation and technical advice.

“Washington state’s new law breaks through what, at times, has been a polarizing debate,” Smith wrote. “When the new law comes into effect next year, Washingtonians will benefit from safeguards that ensure upfront testing, transparency and accountability for facial recognition, as well as specific measures to uphold fundamental civil liberties. At the same time, state and local government agencies may use facial recognition services to locate or identify missing persons, including subjects of Amber and Silver Alerts, and to help keep the public safe. This balanced approach ensures that facial recognition can be used as a tool to protect the public, but only in ways that respect fundamental rights and serve the public interest.”

1 S.B. 6280, 66 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Wash. 2020), https://bit.ly/2X7Xwoo.
2 Ryan Tracy, “Washington State OKs Facial Recognition Law Seen as National Model,” The Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2020, https://on.wsj.com/2V0jabq.
3 Brad Smith, “Finally, progress on regulating facial recognition,” Microsoft on the Issues (blog), March 31, 2020, https://bit.ly/2xLWVy6.

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