The use of facial recognition software is coming back to some cities where the technology was banned and restricted because of controversy over privacy issues and the frequency of wrongful arrests, particularly among people of color.
Laws that went into effect in New Orleans, Virginia and California now appear on their way out, after officials agreed to allow the software to be used in some situations after laws were already passed banning its use, reports CNN.
New Orleans officials passed an ordinance in 2020 banning the police department from using facial recognition software, but in July, decided to allow police officers to seek permission from a superior officer to use it again while investigating violent crimes.
Virginia, meanwhile, outlawed the use of the technology statewide in 2021, but this March approved a bill allowing police to use it in some instances, and California forbade the use of the software in police body cameras in 2020, but at the end of this year, the three-year rule will expire, after an effort to make it a permanent law failed in the state's Senate.
No federal laws are in place concerning facial recognition technology, leaving states, counties and cities to determine their own rules.
There are two types of the software; one is similar to that used on smartphones and other devices, while the other scans a database of faces looking for likely matches.
Privacy and digital rights groups say, however, that there are particular dangers, especially when they lead people of color to face being arrested.
Adam Schwartz, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told CNN that the changes mark a "pendulum swing," toward law and order over using the technology.
"In American politics, there are swings between being afraid of government surveillance and being afraid of crime, and in the short term there seems to have been a swing in favor of fear of crime," said Schwartz. However, he said the EFF remains "optimistic" that there will be limits on using facial recognition technology.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, while applauding the reversed law, said she's "grateful that the women and men of the NOPD now have this valuable, force-multiplying tool that will help take dangerous criminals off our streets."
But New Orleans City Council member Lesli Harris said she's concerned that the legislation will harm civil rights in the city.
"As a woman of color it's hard for me to be in favor of facial recognition," she said, noting that the technology is often inaccurate at recognizing women of color.
In Virginia, state Sen. Scott Surovell, a Democrat who introduced the rule, said the technology is meant mainly as a "lead generator" and even though local police were stopped from using it, state law enforcement used it for its own investigations or to help local police departments.
Clearview AI, one company, says 3,100 U.S. agencies are among its customers, including the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and "hundreds of local agencies."
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