June 30, 2021 by Ethics in Tech board member Brett Wilkins for Common Dreams
Civil liberties advocates on Wednesday cheered as Maine enacted what that state’s ACLU chapter called “the country’s strongest statewide facial recognition law.”
The new law—which sailed unanimously through both chambers of the state Legislature and was passed without any action from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills—bans the use of facial recognition technology by most state agencies and for the purpose of surveillance.
The legislation contains exceptions for the investigation of serious crime; the identification of deceased, missing, or endangered persons; and other limited purposes.
When the law goes into effect this October, it will prohibit the use of facial surveillance in schools. It will also ban direct access to facial recognition technology by law enforcement officials, who will have to request such access via the FBI and Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles in the narrow purview permitted by the legislation.
“Maine is at the forefront of a national movement to preserve civil rights and liberties in the digital age,” saidAlison Beyea, executive director at the ACLU of Maine, which helped craft the legislation.
“Democracy is stronger and communities are safer when we have clear rules and accountability for how governments use new and emerging technologies,” added Beyea.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Grayson Lookner—a Portland Democrat—called the new law “a huge victory for privacy rights and civil liberties in Maine.”
“It’s also a victory for bipartisanship and cooperation,” Lookner added. “I hope that Maine can provide an example to other states that want to rein in the government’s ability to use facial recognition and other invasive biometric technologies.”
The ACLU of Maine said the state’s new law “stands in sharp contrast to the only other statewide approach to regulating face recognition in the United States, a law passed in Washington state in 2020.”
“That law, which was backed by Microsoft, authorizes police across the state to use facial recognition technology to conduct mass surveillance of people’s public movements, habits, and associations,” the group added.
Starting with San Francisco in 2019, more than a dozen U.S. municipalities from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine have also passed facial recognition bans.
There are no federal rules restricting law enforcement use of facial recognition.