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Saturday, May 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  WA Government

Bill boosting accountability for facial recognition technology passes the House

OLYMPIA— Agencies using facial recognition technology would be required to test it for accuracy and bias to make sure it’s accountable, under a bill that passed Friday in the House.

The bill will provide moral guardrails on the use of facial recognition software, said Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent. The technology needs to improve and be held to higher standards.

“I learned that this technology does not see me as a brown-skinned person and as a woman,” she said.

Private, state and local agencies would be required to provide training for staff who operate the technology or process personal data, according to the bill. If the agency finds unfair biases across groups, then it has to address those differences.

A task force would work to provide recommendations on the potential abuses or biases the technology might have.

The bill would also restrict agencies from ongoing surveillance except to comply with law enforcement or a search warrant for a person who has committed a felony or cause to believe they will and a court order is available.

Any decisions affecting a person’s ability to receive loans, housing, insurance, employment or public services made by an agency would be subjected to human review, according to the bill.

All agencies using facial recognition or identification services would be required to publish an annual report containing information on compliance with accountability measures, suspected violations and their recommendations.

Under current law, agencies can’t collect certain data, such as a person’s fingerprints, voicemails or facial or iris scans, without that individual’s consent or government authorization.

There are concerns on how facial recognition practices would be enforced in the private sector, said Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, who supports the bill.

She mentioned a New York company that had customer data hacked and released. Lawmakers have a moral decision to make on the use of facial recognition services, Smith said.

Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said the bill comes close to striking the right balance between law enforcement, citizen’s privacy and technological advancements but still falls short. It needs more work on some areas, including provisions that could stifle development of the new technology, he said.

The bill was sent back to the Senate on a 63-33 vote.

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