Facial recognition ban proposed in Nebraska. The police are opposed.

Nebraska could be the second state in the U.S. to ban the use of facial recognition by government entities. The police arguments aren’t anything we haven’t heard before.

Taylor Siebert / Unsplash

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This past January, Nebraska state legislators Tony Vargas and Megan Hunt proposed Legislative Bill 199 titled the “Face Surveillance Privacy Act.” If passed as presently written, it would make Nebraska the second state in the U.S. to ban the use of facial recognition by government entities. The first was Vermont in October 2020. California banned its use with footage obtained from police body cameras in 2019 and Massachusetts recently regulated the tech very heavily without outright banning it, as discussed in surveil-link #52.

The Nebraska Judiciary Committee recently heard arguments both in favor and against the bill. Those in support expressed concern of racial bias and its effects on civil liberties. However the police argue that it has helped them establish leads but is not currently used to obtain a warrant.

This claim is somewhat concerning because, as discovered by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology, the New York City Police Department has made similar claims saying that after a suspect is matched by their facial recognition software, “additional investigative steps must be performed in order to establish probable cause to arrest the subject.” But many times those “additional investigative steps” may themselves be unreliable. According to Georgetown Law Center:

“NYPD officers made an arrest after texting a witness a single face recognition ‘possible match’ photograph with accompanying text: ‘Is this the guy…?’ The witness’ affirmative response to viewing the single photo and accompanying text, with no live lineup or photo array ever conducted, was the only confirmation of the possible match prior to officers making an arrest.”

It is not clear whether police in Nebraska are using similar tactics.

Over a dozen cities across the country have imposed similar bans on the technology including San Francisco, Oakland, Boston, Jackson, Mississippi, Portland, Oregon, and most recently Minneapolis. A ban has been proposed in New York state and pressure is mounting to do the same in New York City.

The Nebraska bill also gives citizens the ability to sue if any agency violates the bill. If it passes committee, it will then go to the legislative floor for debate.

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