Facial recognition technology is stirring up controversy in California after law enforcement officials said they believe it would help them do a better job of protecting people.
Now, San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting has written a bill that would ban the technology. He believes allowing police agencies to add facial recognition technology to body cams worn by officers will make people feel like they are under round-the-clock surveillance.
"If you were going to deploy hundreds or thousand of cameras on the street for whatever public safety reason, you'd have a pretty significant public discourse, you'd have to talk to the public," insisted Ting.
The California State Sheriff's Association calls the facial recognition technology another tool that would allow them to identify crime suspects more quickly. But Ting said he is convinced that putting law enforcement personnel on the streets with body cams that incorporate the technology would be counterproductive.
"Body cameras were really created to build trust between the community and law enforcement, and at the same time really help law enforcement to their jobs," according to Ting. "I think this would harm the public trust."
A government watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, has said the Federal Bureau of Investigation has access to about 640 million photographs. That includes driver license pictures and mugshots. The agency's Gretta Goodwin told a congressional committee early in June that those photos could be used in facial recognition searches.
Kimberly Del Greco, an FBI deputy assistant director, acknowledged that the agency has a database of mugshots to help state and local law enforcement. She said the FBI also has contracts with 21 states, allowing photos to be compared to state databases.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection currently uses facial recognition in select airports and ports of entry on the coasts. International travelers are photographed, then those pictures are compared to photo identification presented by the travelers.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors in May banned the use of facial recognition software by the police and other agencies.
Ting's legislation establish a similar ban made it through the state's Assembly in May and the Senate Public Safety Committee this week without a single Republican vote.