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King County Council approves facial recognition technology ban

Software ban applies to King County Sheriff’s Office

The King County Council unanimously passed a groundbreaking proposal to ban government use of facial recognition software.

The council approved the measure 9-0 on Tuesday, June 1. 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’s Office, except to comply with the National Child Search Assistance Act.

“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,” said County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles. “The use or misuse of these technologies has potentially devastating consequences which the new ordinance will help to prevent.”

Studies have found that facial recognition software is often far more likely to misidentify Black or Asian faces, especially Black women, according to a county council news release.

“The use of this technology is invasive, intrusive, racially biased and full of risks to fundamental civil liberties,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove. “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.”

“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,” said Jennifer Lee, ACLU Washington. “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 over-policed communities.”




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