Washington state county bans use of facial recognition

June 3, 2021 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — The King County sheriff’s department and other county departments are prohibited from using facial recognition technology or information from the technology under a new measure that cites its threat to privacy and history of bias.

The King County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban the use of the technology, but will still allow county departments, including the sheriff’s office, to use facial recognition evidence as long as it is not produced or asked for by the departments, The Seattle Times reported.

The measure would not ban the use of such technology by any other government within King County or by private groups or people. It will also continue to be used in a federal program that searches for missing children.

King County Executive Dow Constantine supports the measure and will sign it into law, his office said. Residents would then be able to sue if facial recognition technology is used in violation.

King County has joined an increasing number of local governments across the U.S. that have banned the technology after studies have shown it’s frequently biased against people of color.

“I think that the technology raises huge concerns, primarily on the inaccuracy of the technology, demographic biases and encroachment on civil liberties and privacy for everybody,” said councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the legislation’s lead sponsor. “I think it’s not appropriate for us to use.”

Sheriff Sgt. Tim Meyer said the department currently does not use any technology that would be affected by the ban and doesn’t expect any changes from the new law.

“The Sheriff’s Office operations will not be hindered by the proposed legislation,” Meyer said. “This legislation reflects the values of the communities we serve.”