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April 14, 2022

The governor amended a controversial bill that would lift the ban on the use of facial recognition technology without a warrant by local law enforcement agencies. The governor’s amendments did nothing to address the many concerns voiced by a broad range of advocates across the political spectrum throughout the process.  

The ACLU of Virginia firmly opposes expanding the use of this invasive and untested technology from use by only the Virginia State Police to use by all local law enforcement agencies, including campus police.  

The bill would expand this technology to more law enforcement agencies and grant them access to an even broader database of millions of images, including those from social media. Even more concerning, it would allow these agencies to use facial recognition technology without a warrant and with little to no meaningful oversight. This seems to be a recipe for misuse that could result in innocent Virginians being caught unjustly in the criminal legal system. This is particularly concerning in Black and Brown communities where the technology tends to be overused, even though practice has shown the technology is unreliable in accurately identifying Black and Brown faces. 

This is not a partisan issue. The ban on local law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology passed in 2021 was supported by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, current and former law enforcement officers, and American for Prosperity Virginia voiced serious concerns about the current legislation. Localities across the country have banned facial recognition, including in California, Massachusetts, Maine, Oregon, and Mississippi.   

The question we ask is: why the rush to expand a practice that has proven to be both unreliable and harmful? Nearly 900 people sent emails to Governor Youngkin asking him to veto this bill. Instead, he chose to move this legislation forward with inconsequential changes and sent it back to the General Assembly. There’s still so much we don’t know about this technology, and we need to do the due diligence of further, unbiased study before we put it in the hands of even more law enforcement agencies. It is not right to use Virginians as test subjects and put our rights and freedoms on the line.  

Bottom line - law enforcement has no business looking through our faces in facial recognition databases without any reason to do so, simply because we live our public life in digital spaces and share our photos on social media. Expanding law enforcement's use of facial recognition technology is a deeply concerning action that threatens our core constitutional rights. We should be extremely careful and judicious about its use if we must use it at all.