King County could be first in nation to ban government use of facial recognition technology

KING COUNTY, Wash. — King County could become the first county in the nation to ban the government’s use of facial recognition technology.

The technology is used by police and is triggering a growing outcry around the country.

During a virtual King County Council meeting on Wednesday, people shared their concerns as the council took up the idea for the first time.

“This technology poses unprecedented civil liberties, privacy and equity concerns,” one man said.

“Who, in a free society, wants to have the only means of opting out of this surveillance by never leaving one’s home?” another person commented.

The American Civil Liberties Union stated the technology makes a lot of mistakes.

“This technology disproportionately misidentifies people of color, women, trans people and nonbinary people supercharging discrimination,” one woman told the council.

A new state law limiting government use of facial recognition takes effect July 1.

However, King County’s council member, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, said the county should ban it altogether.

“I’m just too concerned about all that can go wrong with what we have now,” she said.

Neither the state law nor the proposed county ban would affect private companies.

A King County ban would apply to most of the county government, including the sheriff’s office, where a spokesman told KIRO 7 the technology is not being used.

The Security Industry Association stated technology by the leading companies does not have a bias problem and that a ban would be a mistake.

Advocates for using facial recognition say it can help find missing children involved in human trafficking.

But a spokesperson for the King County Council said the legislation includes an exemption specifically for compliance with the National Child Search Assistance Act.

A preliminary council vote on the King County ban could come as early as May 5.