Wednesday, February 8

Debate continues in Legislature over limits on facial recognition technology | Subscriber-Only Content

Lawmakers are expected to further debate how much to limit the use of facial recognition technology in Colorado after the House and Senate passed competing regulations on Friday.

Senate Bill 113 would establish several regulations for the use of facial recognition by government and law enforcement agencies, as well as prohibit the technology in schools until 2025. The Senate approved the bill as is, but the House voted to roll back the limitations. The two chambers will duke out the differences in the coming days.

Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, sponsor of the original bill, said he is seeking to limit the use of facial recognition technology because of its high error rate for people of color.

“We need to make sure we’re not having high error rates and putting the appropriate safeguards in the use of facial recognition technology.”

Multiple studies have found a racial bias in facial recognition technology. For dark-skinned women, the technology had an error rate of 34.7%, compared to 0.8% for fair-skinned men, according to a 2018 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Similarly, a federal study in 2019 found that Asian and African American people were up to 100 times more likely than white men to be misidentified by facial recognition technology.

Under Hansen’s bill, law enforcement would be prohibited from using facial recognition to establish probable cause, identify an individual from a police sketch, or create a record depicting an individual’s actions protected by the First Amendment.

Agencies also would need special permission to use facial recognition to conduct surveillance, tracking or real-time identification.

Government agencies that use facial recognition technology would have to notify a reporting authority, specify why the technology is being used, produce an accountability report, test the equipment, and subject any decisions that result from the technology to human review.

The House narrowed the regulations via an amendment that effectively replaced the bill’s original language. Under the House version, the bill would prohibit government agencies and schools from executing new contracts for facial recognition services but would continue existing contracts.

For law enforcement, the bill would restrict using the technology to instances where they have warrants or court orders.

“The bill that came out of the Senate … was kind of cart before the horse,” said Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, who proposed the amendment. “We thought instead of doing that, let’s just put a perspective moratorium on new facial recognition technology uses.”

Tipper said it doesn’t make sense to establish the regulations under Hansen’s bill because the state does not yet know what the best practices are for regulating the technology.

Both versions of the bill would create a task force to assess the state’s use of facial recognition technology. Under Hansen’s bill, the task force would work for 10 years. Under Tipper’s bill, it would only meet for two years.

The House passed the amended bill, 49-14. The Senate passed the original bill, 27-7, in March. The chambers must agree on the final version of the bill before it can be sent to Gov. Jared Polis.

Hansen said he is “working closely” with the bill’s House sponsors and he intends to bring the bill to a conference committee to advocate for the original version.

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