Stand Up to Face Surveillance in California

Surveillance technology vendors are using this moment to promote dangerous face surveillance products, even when they do more harm than good. Assemblymember Ed Chau (D–Monterey Park) is pushing a bill through the California State legislature that would promote the expansion of unnecessary and harmful face surveillance technology in the midst of this pandemic.

It is not clear how deploying face surveillance would help contain the spread of the virus. What we do know, however, is that face recognition systems—already being used elsewhere to deport immigrants, criminalize the unhoused, and facilitate mass incarceration—endanger the very Californians most vulnerable to our current public health crisis. We have long-opposed the use of face surveillance, which exacerbates existing inequities in our society. It is a deeply flawed technology that exposes people to constant scrutiny by the government, and has the potential to chill free speech and movement. It also can generate inaccurate reports. It has been well-documented by MIT the Georgetown Center for Privacy and Technology, and the ACLU that these error rates—and the related consequences—are far higher for women and people with darker skin.

During a national crisis like the one we’re facing now, lawmakers must make critical decisions that can define our future for decades to come. It is all too likely that any new use of face surveillance to contain COVID-19 would long outlive the public health emergency.

The policy changes we make in this moment should not use fear or uncertainty to normalize invasive technologies. Rather, the changes we make in this moment should affirm a positive vision for a just, equitable, and healthy future for all of us. Tell your lawmakers to oppose A.B. 2261.

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