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King County Council votes to ban facial recognition software

A video surveillance camera hangs from the side of a building on May 14, 2019, in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The King County Council voted Tuesday 9-0 to ban government use of facial recognition software, which means King County is the first U.S. county to pass such a ban.

However, cities across the country, such as Portland, Boston, and San Francisco, have implemented bans on facial recognition software.

King County Council puts off vote on proposal to ban facial recognition technology

After a divisive hearing in early May, the King County Council decided not to vote on the proposal. One prevailing argument against moving forward with a vote involved the fact that state lawmakers recently passed a law addressing many underlying concerns related to the technology.

Others cited concerns over whether banning the technology would prevent locating missing or trafficked children. The council said it wanted more information on that before moving forward. On Tuesday, the county said that the legislation complies with the National Child Search Assistance Act.

The ban also wouldn’t affect companies from using the technology, only county offices, including the King County Sheriff’s Office. Read background from the county.

Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who is the prime sponsor of the legislation, said, “The use of facial recognition technology by government agencies poses distinct threats to our residents, including potential misidentification, bias, and the erosion of our civil liberties. The use or misuse of these technologies has potentially devastating consequences which the new ordinance will help to prevent.”

The county says studies have shown that facial recognition software is more likely to misidentify Black or Asian faces, especially Black women.

“Now it’s time for a federal ban on government use of facial recognition to ensure that no one’s civil liberties and civil rights are violated by a pervasive and often inaccurate technology that disproportionately misidentifies people of color and heightens the risk of surveillance and deadly encounters with law enforcement in already marginalized and overpoliced communities,” said Jennifer Lee, ACLU Washington.

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