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The Privacy Advisor | Maine passes statewide facial recognition ban Related reading: The latest on facial recognition technology in the US



Maine passed a law banning facial recognition technology from schools and use by government officials and employees, including law enforcement with limited exceptions.

The bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland, said the legislation “ensures Maine will be a leader on protecting civil liberties and public safety well into the future,” while the ACLU of Maine called it the “strongest statewide facial recognition law.”

LD 1585, “An Act to Increase Privacy and Security by Regulating the Use of Facial Surveillance Systems by Departments, Public Employees and Public Officials,” was unanimously approved by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, followed by unanimous approval in the Maine House and Senate on June 16 and 17, respectively. The bill became law without action from Gov. Janet Mills and will go into effect Oct. 1, 2021.

“This is a huge victory for privacy rights and civil liberties in Maine,” Lookner said in a press release.

LD 1585 prohibits state, county and municipal departments, employees, and officials from using or possessing facial recognition technology, or from entering into a third-party agreement to obtain, access or use the technology. It also gives “injured or aggrieved” individuals the opportunity to seek “injunctive or declaratory relief” against a “department, public employee or public official” believed to be in violation of the law. A public employee or official who violates the law “may be subject to disciplinary action, including, but not limited to, retraining, suspension or termination,” the bill states.

Under the legislation, law enforcement may request a facial recognition search from the FBI and the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles with “probable cause to believe an unidentified person in an image committed a serious crime,” or when assisting in the identification of a deceased, missing or endangered individual. The Maine State Police and BMV will be required to maintain public records of all search requests “received and performed.” The law stipulates any unlawfully obtained data must be deleted and is inadmissible as evidence, and that the results of a facial recognition search are not sufficient, without other evidence, to justify “arrest, search or seizure.”

Lookner said he hopes Maine “can provide an example to other states that want to rein in the government’s ability to use facial recognition and other invasive biometric technologies.”

Both Virginia and Massachusetts have banned some police use of facial recognition. Washington state in 2020 passed a law that prohibits the use of facial recognition for ongoing surveillance and regulates state and local government agency use of facial recognition services. Under Washington's law, any agency seeking to use facial recognition must file a notice of intent and an accountability report subject to public comment. The ACLU — which led a coalition of civil rights, religious and community organizations in opposing Washington’s legislation — said Maine’s law “stands in sharp contrast.”

“Maine is showing the rest of the country what it looks like when we the people are in control of our civil rights and civil liberties, not tech companies that stand to profit from widespread government use of face surveillance technology,” said ACLU of Maine Policy Counsel Michael Kebede.

In response to the bill’s passage, ACLU Executive Director Alison Beyea said Maine is “at the forefront of a national movement to preserve civil rights and liberties in the digital age.”

“Democracy is stronger and communities are safer when we have clear rules and accountability for how governments use new and emerging technologies,” she said.

Photo by Keith Luke on Unsplash

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