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Bill putting some oversight on police use of facial recognition tech in Utah is going nowhere

Posted at 2:54 PM, Nov 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-20 17:17:19-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would have put some oversight on police’s use of facial recognition technology didn’t go anywhere on Utah’s Capitol Hill in the face of pushback from lawmakers on the right and left who felt it didn’t do enough.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, proposed a bill that would have put some oversight on the Utah Department of Public Safety’s use of the technology, including a disclosure that people’s driver license photos would be scanned. But the bill didn’t get very far in questioning by his colleagues on the Utah State Legislature’s Government Operations Interim Committee.

Utah DPS has faced scrutiny afterGeorgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology found the agency was repeatedly scanning the photo of every single Utahn with a driver’s license to search for a wanted person at the behest of out-of-state agencies, including ICE and the FBI. That included the photos of those with student learner’s permits.

At a September hearing, lawmakers were alarmed by the disclosures and threatened regulation. Sen. Thatcher insisted his bill provided some of that oversight.

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, and Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, felt the use of facial recognition technology violated citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. So did Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Murray, who said innocent people were being subject to warrantless searches.

Sen. Thatcher acknowledged their concerns and proposed an amendment similar to legislation being pushed on a federal level by Utah Sen. Mike Lee. It would have set stricter limits on ongoing surveillance.

“I personally have no problem with my face being searched 2,000 times a day to ensure we are not supporting people in identity theft and identity fraud, which was prevalent before the use of facial recognition,” Sen. Thatcher told the committee. “So again, if you want to talk about limiting the use of tracking an individual, creating additional data, making records of where they’ve been or where they’re going, I’m with you all the way because that is an infringement on your right to privacy.”

In an unusual pairing, the conservative Utah Eagle Forum and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah both spoke out against Sen. Thatcher’s bill.

“It doesn’t do enough and the state legislature can do better,” said Maryann Christensen, the executive director of the Utah Eagle Forum. “And I hope you will in the future, but not with this bill.”

The bill never got a vote, when Sen. Thatcher made a motion to adjourn. He said he did not intend to bring it back. However, other lawmakers may consider their own bills dealing with regulating facial recognition tech in the 2020 session that begins in January.