California: Stand Up to Face Surveillance

EFF has joined a broad coalition of civil liberties, civil rights, and labor advocates to oppose A.B. 2261, which threatens to normalize the increased use of face surveillance of Californians where they live and work. Our allies include the ACLU of California, Oakland Privacy, the California Employment Lawyers Association, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) of California, and California Teamsters.

A.B. 2261 is currently before the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It purports to regulate face surveillance in the name of privacy concerns during this pandemic. In fact, as written, this bill will give a legislative imprimatur to the dangerous and invasive use of face surveillance, by setting weak minimum standards that allow governments and corporation to pay lip service to privacy without actually preventing the harms of face surveillance. The risk is greater now than ever. Government officials already are pushing to use pandemic management tools to surveil and control protests across the country against racism and police brutality.

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Stand Up to Face Surveillance

Any bill that smooths a path for increased face surveillance is not the answer, especially as we face the moment’s crises. Several companies and government agencies have proposed expanding the use of this technology in light of the pandemic, even though there is no proof that face surveillance can be a meaningful tool to address the COVID-19 crisis. What is well-documented is how using this technology exacerbates existing biases in policing. It also harms our privacy, by making it impossible to go about our lives without government and corporations monitoring where we go, what we are doing, and who we are with. It also chills our First Amendment rights to gather and protest.

Surveillance infrastructure set up in times of crisis is not easily rolled back. Many governments already employ powerful spying technologies in ways that harm minority communities. This includes spying on the social media of activists, particularly advocates for racial justice such as participants in the Black-led movement for racial and economic justice. Also, police watch lists are often over-inclusive and error-riddled, and cameras often are over-deployed in minority areas—effectively criminalizing entire communities.  If history is any guide, we expect police will engage in racial profiling with face surveillance technology, too.

This is a flawed and dangerous technology at any time, and especially now when its use could further target communities of color who already are disparately impacted by both the pandemic and police violence.

We urge Chairperson Gonzalez and the members of the Assembly Approriations Committee to stop this bill from moving forward, and listen to the voices of their constituents who are concerned about the harmful effect it could have in their everyday lives as they seek some sense of normalcy. Californians: please tell your lawmakers to stand against face surveillance.

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Stand Up to Face Surveillance

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Author: Hayley Tsukayama

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