Regulation of facial recognition technology fails in interim committee

The topic is likely to be brought up again during the 2023 legislative session

By: - September 19, 2022 5:55 pm

Facial recognition illustration (Image via Pixabay | Public domain).

Economic Affairs Interim Committee members failed to move forward with any draft legislation to regulate the use of budding facial recognition technology at its final meeting before the 2023 legislative session.

The committee has spent a good portion of the interim studying the technology and how it interrelates with Montanans’ heightened right to privacy. The committee heard from a large swath of stakeholders — from tech companies to law enforcement — about how the technology should be used in Montana and what sidebars, if any, should be put in place.

Those in favor of using the technology talked about its benefits for solving crimes and making some government operations, like getting your driver’s license, more efficient, while critics raised privacy and government overreach concerns.

While no consensus was reached on legislation, committee members recognized the need for regulation of the technology and drafted two bills to either restrict or prohibit the technology.

At the meeting last week, Rep. Mark Noland, R-Bigfork, who brought the facial recognition technology prohibition bill to the committee, submitted a petition signed by 400 Montanans supporting a ban on the technology in the state in a final effort to get his draft bill out of committee. However, the committee voted down advancing the bill draft that would have prohibited the use of facial recognition by state or local governments and law enforcement.

Still, committee members talked about the need for a bill and said the issue will be raised again during the upcoming legislative session.

“I’m going to withhold my vote today. But that does not mean in any way that I have no intention of continuing my work on this. I fully will be supporting the progress of a facial recognition bill next session,” said Rep. Katie Sullivan, D-Missoula, who unsuccessfully tried to legislate the technology during the 2021 session.

Sen. Ken Bogner, R-Miles City, has already filed a bill draft request with the legislature for a bill to revise laws related to privacy and facial recognition technology.

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“I would like to follow up on the committee work we did in the public sector, but I am also thinking about doing a private sector bill on consumer protection policy,” Bogner, who is the chairman of the committee, said Monday.

Republican Sen. Jason Ellsworth of Hamilton, voted in favor of the prohibition last week, saying state agencies trying to use the technology should have to prove to the legislature it’s necessary.

“I think it’s worthy that we actually put the most restrictive bill out of this committee, and then have people having to actually come in and justify … while we’re in the session, why they need access or ability for facial recognition,” he said at last week’s committee meeting.

For Vice Chairman Rep. Derek Harvey, D-Butte, the whole process was rushed.

“When we discuss bringing a committee bill out of the interim, we’re putting our name on it  … saying that we did our due diligence and studying this bill, and we’re giving it its endorsement,” he said at last week’s meeting. “Today, we got a stack of new information, and now we want to push a bill through. I have to stand with my constituents, and I have to stand with law enforcement.”

The bill to prohibit the technology in the state was brought by Noland, who has been a vocal critic of the technology through the study.

“We have some God-given rights, and privacy is one of them and so is it in our Constitution, that we have privacy, we have protection,” he said.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. Keith is no longer a reporter with the Daily Montanan.