ITIF Urges California Lawmakers to Improve Oversight and Accountability for Facial Recognition Technology, Not Halt It

March 10, 2020

SACRAMENTO—The benefits of facial recognition technology far outweigh the potential risk that law enforcement will misuse it, according to testimony offered in the California State Assembly today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy.

“Facial recognition provides substantial benefits to society by increasing public safety, creating conveniences for consumers, and making services more accessible for disabled people,” said ITIF Research Analyst Michael McLaughlin. “Californians enjoy a variety of civil liberties protections through state law, the U.S. Constitution, and self-regulatory efforts by industry. The goal of any new facial recognition laws should be to strengthen those safeguards, not halt use of the technology.”

Testifying at a joint informational hearing, McLaughlin outlined a series of ITIF recommendations for state lawmakers to improve oversight and accountability of facial recognition use by government, including:

  • Requiring law enforcement agencies to publicly disclose when they are using the technology.
  • Requiring the California Department of Justice or other relevant authorities to establish:
    • Performance standards for any facial recognition systems that law enforcement procures;
    • Policies for government use of the technology in sensitive environments such as protests, schools, and abortion clinics; and
    • Policies for how state agencies and contractors can acquire and share photos for facial recognition.
    • Requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant to use the technology to track the location of an individual over an extended period of time.
    • Requiring state and local law enforcement entities to have written policies on how they will use the technology.
    • Establishing guardrails for the use of live facial recognition systems that attempt to match faces in real-time images, such as from closed-circuit TV cameras.
    • Funding training for law enforcement to use the technology properly, and to pilot the technology before implementing it.

“Because of the significant benefits of facial recognition, the potential for police to misuse the technology doesn’t mean government should halt or ban it,” said McLaughlin. “It means government should improve oversight of law enforcement’s behavior and enact rules where necessary.”

Read the testimony.