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Council has questions, holds off on facial recognition technology ban in King County

The King County Council took no action on a measure to prohibit the use of facial recognition technology at a committee meeting Wednesday morning, choosing to defer for two weeks.

Should the council act on the legislation, King County would be the first county in the nation to ban facial recognition technology.

The ban would prevent King County agencies such as the sheriff’s office from using facial recognition software in the course of their duties, although they could accept such information from outside sources as long as they didn’t contract for it or request it. It would not impact the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office or the courts.

At present, the county does not use facial recognition technology, so the ban wouldn’t disrupt any existing practices, said Nick Bowman, a legislative analyst with King County.

Facial recognition technology has been shown to be less accurate at identifying non-white faces. Even if the technology was accurate, it remains dangerous, said Brianna Auffray, the legal and policy manager at CAIR Washington, an Islamic civil liberties advocacy group.

“Government use of facial recognition technology will always be a tool of oppression, whether it is intended or not, because of the fear that it instills in people,” Auffray said.

Several councilmembers had questions about details such as the use of information derived from facial recognition technology from other law enforcement agencies with which the county has mutual aid agreements and whether or not organizations that work against human trafficking had an opportunity to weigh in. 

“The committee of the whole is where we come together to work on legislation before we go forward. There have been a lot of questions. This legislation’s mission is something I agree with. I’m just concerned that the path we’re taking to it may lead to more problems,” said Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer.

The council is expected to take up the issue again at its May 19 meeting.