WA Enacts Microsoft-Backed Facial Recognition Law

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Washington state adopted a Microsoft Corp.-backed law featuring the nation’s most detailed regulations of facial recognition, potentially a model for other states as use of the technology grows, reports the Wall Street Journal. Gov. Jay Inslee signed the law Tuesday allowing government agencies to use facial recognition, with restrictions designed to ensure it isn’t used for broad surveillance or tracking innocent people. The law makes Washington’s policy stricter than many states that don’t have laws governing the technology, but more permissive than at least seven U.S. municipalities that have blocked government from using it out of concerns about privacy violations and bias.

Passage of the law is a win for Microsoft, based near Seattle. Cloud providers such as Microsoft and other technology firms see a multibillion-dollar opportunity as businesses and governments apply facial recognition to identify customers, solve crimes, control access to buildings and more. Proposed bans on the technology threaten that opportunity. Other tech companies say they support regulation of facial recognition, but generally haven’t been so active as Microsoft in promoting legislation. There are signs the Washington model is catching on in other states. Lawmakers in California, Maryland, South Dakota and Idaho introduced bills this year with text mirroring the Washington state bill. Microsoft has helped promote the legislation in other states. In Idaho, Republican State Rep. Britt Raybould modeled a facial-recognition proposal on a draft of the Washington bill she received from Microsoft after reaching out to the company. A Microsoft spokesman noted the company has been openly advocating for facial recognition regulations since 2018.

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