Facial Recognition Bill Opposed by ACLU of California


By Nancy Martinez

On May 4, 2020, 55 civil rights organizations, public health and technology scholars condemned AB 2261, a facial recognition bill, as harmful to Californians by its ability to disproportionately affect minority communities.

On Feb. 21, 2020, Assemblymember Ed Chau introduced a bill that would allow private industries and the government to use facial recognition technology to track individuals in California. On Monday, May 4, the ACLU along with 55 other organizations announced a press release that urged legislators to oppose such a bill, arguing that face recognition has the potential to harm people of color and immigrants by violating civil rights and liberties. Organizations also argued that this proposed bill is only trying to capitalize on the COVID-19 public health crisis.

AB 2261 states that such approved facial recognition technology would “improve security, provide individuals with efficient identification experiences, locate missing or incapacitated persons, identify victims of crime, and keep the public safe.” The bill goes so far as to suggest that such technology will prohibit “uses that threaten our privacy, our democratic freedoms, and our civil liberties.”

However, civil rights and scholarly organizations argue that this new type of technology will target people of color and immigrants by limiting access to healthcare, housing and employment. Such a bill will also cause an increase in “unjust” arrests and deportations.

The ACLU press release further argued that, rather than investing in public health, Assemblymember Ed Chau seeks to capitalize on the COVID-19 health crisis in order to pass this “resource-wasting bill.” The civil rights organizations agree that this is not an adequate response to the health crisis we are in.

In a joining opposition letter, joining technology scholar organizations claimed that the costs of this technology will outweigh any predicted benefits by depriving people of freedoms necessary for a democratic society, such as freedom of speech and association, and will additionally support authoritarian governments by allowing the “large-scale identification, tracking, and behavioral analysis of populations.”

The ACLU agrees that facial recognition technology has been used to “oppress religious minorities and discourage free expression.” According to the technology scholars from universities across the nation, facial recognition technology must be stopped before it consumes the liberties of our lives.

Similarly, public health scholars opposed the bill and technology by maintaining that the diversion of public health resources into the development of intrusive technology will “define public health outcomes for decades to come.” Investments into the future public health infrastructure should be prioritized over technology that will threaten Black and Brown communities, considering the infrastructures that were in place during this COVID-19 pandemic.

The public health scholars point out that historical safeguards on public health access, similar to AB 2261, have been put in place to advance xenophobic policies and programs. A safeguard such as a facial recognition technology will offer no benefits to public health but would only enforce racial biases like those targeting Asian-Americans amid the current health crisis.

The coalition of 55 civil rights organizations ranging from public defender offices to immigration advocacy groups collaborated to collectively denounce the implications of AB 2261. The coalition argued that AB 2261 would deprive Californians access to healthcare, basic services, and employment opportunities. Such a bill would also cause Californians to feel less safe and implement freedom limitations. AB 2261 would allow biased and inaccurate facial recognition. Additionally, this bill would be a waste of government resources while also not protecting Californians from private companies who seek to benefit from the COVID-19 crisis.

In their published press release, the ACLU of California confronted the accuracy of existing facial recognition technology by noting that three cities in California have banned government use of such technology and by stating that this technology has been proven to be less accurate for Black, Asian and female populations. Nevertheless, ICE has been reported to run this technology on DMV photo information to target immigrants for deportation, proving the exploitation of this technology against immigrant communities. This proves a key issue with allowing such a technology to be freely used by the government.

Face recognition technology is in our future, but it is up to legislators today to determine the limitations of this technology that will dictate the future freedom of Americans. The ACLU and other civil rights organizations strongly and collectively maintain that this technology is built on racially-motivated tactics to oppress minorities. Immigrants and minorities have been unlawfully prone to the unjust use of advanced technology by law enforcement agencies. The fight against this bill may protect countless future immigrants and people of color from the racist abuse of technology.

AB 2261 will be heard by the Assembly Privacy Committee today, May 5, 2020.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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6 thoughts on “Facial Recognition Bill Opposed by ACLU of California”

  1. Keith Olsen

    With contact tracing being pushed lately because of COVID I have wonder how the Vanguard feels about that when it is against most other types of surveillance.

      1. Bill Marshall


        A lot less people would have died, if ‘Typhoid Mary” had been ‘profiled’, and her contacts been traced…

        So, where do you draw the line, David, between “civil liberties” and public health?  You have previously stated that a restaurant owner should stay closed, to protect your brother-in-law, and perhaps herself…

        I lean towards testing everyone who is willing, but not so sure about folk who might appear to be ‘carriers’… if 5 folk I was in contact with, contract covid-19, I should be tested, as a point of law… with or without my consent… mandatory, civil rights be damned… if one was serious about the covid-19 thing, preventing morbidity/deaths.

        Death is inevitable… goes to time, place, manner…

        1. David Greenwald

          It would be nice if instead of asking questions you read the articles I have written that address these points. I guess that’s probably too much to ask.

          The national, state and local governments have the authority to interfere with constiuttional rights during times of emergency. That’s why they can do things like suspend Habeas Corpus, Curfews, and other restrictions.

          The test is a balancing test – is there a real emergency and are the restrictions reasonable to protect the public during those times.

          When does the government go too far? When there is not a real emergency or when the restrictions are not reasonable to protect the public, or if they are left in place after the emergency has vanished.

          Where is the line – the line is not a bright line but it is drawn at threat and reasonability.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Where is the line – the line is not a bright line but it is drawn at threat and reasonability.

          On that, we agree… time, place, manner…

          It would be nice if instead of asking questions  making assumptions, you read the articles and understood the plain language/meaning of my posts



        3. Keith Olsen

          The airlines and our government have already been talking about using facial recognition as a solution to help hurry lines going through customs in the wake of the COVID panic.

          While still in its infancy, business and government agencies are increasingly turning to facial recognition technology at a time when social distancing is the norm; newer biometrics, such as fingerprint scans, are considered impractical at the moment, since a person needs to touch a screen in order to verify his or her identity (possibly spreading COVID-19 as a result). 


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