A groundbreaking proposal to ban government use of facial recognition software has been passed by the King County Council. It was approved Tuesday afternoon by a vote of 9-0. King County, home to 2.3 million people in and around Seattle, becomes the first county and one of the largest jurisdictions in the United States to pass such a ban.
The legislation, prime sponsored by Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, aims to protect our residents’ civil liberties and freedom from government surveillance and demographic biases by prohibiting the use of such software, including by the King County Sheriff, except to comply with the National Child Search Assistance Act.
Studies have found that facial recognition software is often far more likely to misidentify Black or Asian faces, especially Black women.
“The use of facial recognition technology by government agencies poses distinct threats to our residents, including potential misidentification, bias, and the erosion of our civil liberties. The use or misuse of these technologies has potentially devastating consequences which the new ordinance will help to prevent. I am very appreciative that my colleagues unanimously supported my legislation today banning its use in King County government agencies, and appreciate the overwhelming community support we’ve had. Our vote today makes King County the first county in the nation to pass this type of ban!” – King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the legislation’s prime sponsor.
“The use of this technology is invasive, intrusive, racially biased and full of risks to fundamental civil liberties. I am proud to sponsor this ban which is supported by local community groups, public defenders, immigrants’ rights advocates, racial justice organizations, workers’ rights groups, privacy advocates, and technologists.” – King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove.
“Today's unanimous vote to adopt a facial recognition ban is a huge win for the residents of King County and an important step forward in the effort to stop government use of this harmful and racist technology. With this vote, King County joins a growing number of local jurisdictions across the nation that have approved similar restrictions. Now it's time for a federal ban on government use of facial recognition to ensure that no one's civil liberties and civil rights are violated by a pervasive and often inaccurate technology that disproportionately misidentifies people of color and heightens the risk of surveillance and deadly encounters with law enforcement in already marginalized and overpoliced communities.” – Jennifer Lee, Technology and Liberty Project Manager, ACLU of Washington.
"The passing of the King County Facial Recognition Ordinance is a huge step towards implementing equitable restrictions on surveillance technology. Facial recognition is consistently used to target Muslims around the world, as well as to quell our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, religion, and association. We applaud King County for being the first multi-city county in the nation to pass such necessary measures, and we call on the rest of our state and country to follow suit." – Brianna Auffray, Legal & Policy Manager, CAIR-WA.
"It's rare to have such unequivocal data showing that a law enforcement ‘tool’ creates such inequitable outcomes. The King County Council did the right thing by restricting the use of facial recognition technology that is likely to jeopardize the safety and liberty of people with darker skin, people who are transgender, and other minoritized community members. We cannot continue policing in a way that protects white cis bodies by putting others at risk. The League hopes the Council will continue to find avenues for reform like this one." - Alyssa Weed, President, League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County.