The Golden State passed Assembly Bill 1215, placing a moratorium on the use of biometric surveillance features in conjunction with police body-worn cameras. The bill also seeks to allow people to bring action for “equitable or declaratory” relief against law enforcement agencies or officers who violate the new legislation. Barred features include physiological, biological or behavioral metrics that can be used to establish a person’s identity, either used individually or in some combination.
“My inclination is to be wary of allowing government, at any level, to subsume more capacity to track the movements and activities of the citizens in its jurisdiction, the benefits to law enforcement notwithstanding,” said government and economics student Matthew Knight. “Frankly, I think I’m okay with this rare display of California’s willingness not to grant itself more power.”
Police body-worn cameras won’t be able to take advantage of emerging analytics for the next three years, such as facial and behavioral recognition. However, the legislation doesn’t just prohibit the installation of these programs on the cameras themselves, but also bans their use in connection with body cameras and data collected by an officer’s camera.
“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,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting, author of the bill.
AB 1215 states the use of such technology creates a significant threat to the civil rights and liberties of residents and visitors in California, equivalent to requiring everyone to display a personal photo identification at all times. The legislation also alleges that biometric surveillance features allow people to be tracked without their consent and would generate large databases on law-abiding citizens, possibly curbing the exercise of free speech in public places.
The bill lists additional concerns, claiming the technology would disproportionately impact more heavily policed communities and discourage victims, undocumented people, or those with a criminal history or unpaid fines and fees from seeking assistance or helping police. AB 1215 was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday, October 8 and will expire on January 1, 2023.
Currently, the Amador County Sheriff’s Office does not use body-worn cameras and has no plans to implement them, according to Undersheriff Gary Redman. He went on to state that body cameras typically are not left on 24/7 and must be manually activated by the officer. However, the issues typically arise when the camera is either not activated or accidentally left on.
Ione Police Department uses basic body-worn cameras, but Police Chief Tracy Busby stated the legislation will not affect their department because they don’t use any sort of biometric analytics. Jackson Police Sergeant Jose Arevalos stated the Jackson Police Department also uses a very basic body-worn camera and this legislation likely won’t affect them either.
Arevalos went on to state JPD had looked into some services surrounding the use of such technology. He noted it can be expensive, one company quoting $100.00 per hour of video to redact audio and other people when using biometric analytics as required by regulations. The California Highway Patrol Amador Office does not use body-worn cameras and Sutter Creek Police Department had not responded by the time of publication.