SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a flurry of criminal justice reforms Tuesday evening, including measures that bar law enforcement from using facial recognition software in body cameras, speed up the expungement process and end certain sentencing enhancements.
“I am signing more than two dozen bills that give hope to those that have earned a second chance in our communities, and also support victims of crime,” Newsom said in a statement. “These bills show a new path to ensure our state moves closer toward a more equitable criminal justice system.”
Under Assembly Bill 1215, law enforcement agencies will have to wait at least three years before they can equip officers with body cameras installed with biometric surveillance technology that can systematically take and store photos of Californians.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other critics of facial recognition technology want to keep law enforcement agencies from installing the software on officer body cameras until developers such as Amazon and Microsoft can work out the kinks. The group claims the budding technology is prone to misidentifying minorities and is unfit for deployment on California streets.
“Rather than facilitating the expansion of a discriminatory surveillance state, California must invest its precious resources to foster free, healthy communities where everyone can feel safe – regardless of what they look like, where they’re from, how they worship or where they live,” said ACLU of Northern California attorney Matt Cagle in a statement.
Though the measure was widely opposed by law enforcement groups who painted the ban as “heavy-handed,” the measure cleared both chambers with bipartisan votes.
Supporters backed their arguments with a series of ACLU studies that used Amazon’s facial recognition software, called Rekognition, to cross-check 120 California legislators against a database of 25,000 publicly available mugshots. The algorithm falsely identified 26 of the lawmakers – including AB 1215 author Assemblyman Phil Ting.
Another test found Amazon’s product incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress to the mugshots of other people.
In light of the studies, Amazon defended its software and accused the ACLU of rigging the test to create mismatches.
Ting, D-San Francisco, says his bill will help keep cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles from becoming “police states” and give technology companies time to develop more reliable software. The measure goes into effect in January and sunsets in 2023.
“The public wanted their officers and deputies to use body cameras to provide accountability and transparency for the community. The addition of facial recognition technology essentially turns them into 24-hour surveillance tools, giving law enforcement the ability to track our every move. We cannot become a police state,” Ting said in a statement.
City councils in San Francisco, Oakland and Somerville, Massachusetts, have voted to ban government use of facial surveillance, and the Massachusetts Legislature is considering a similar moratorium.
Also included in the 25 criminal justice reform bills signed by Newsom Tuesday is a measure that tasks the state with implementing a system that will automatically expunge certain arrest records.