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Janine Shimomura, 916-824-3266

May 4, 2020

55 Organizations Say AB 2261 Will Exacerbate the Public Health Crisis, Promote Discrimination

Sacramento — Today, the ACLU of California joined with 55 civil rights organizations across the state to send a clear message to the Assembly Privacy Committee, urging legislators to oppose a California bill that would legitimize the widespread use of harmful and unnecessary facial recognition on the public. AB 2261, introduced by Assemblymember Ed Chau, will be heard in committee tomorrow, Tuesday, May 5.

In addition to these civil rights organizations, public health scholars, and technology scholars have officially opposed AB 2261 in letters to the Assembly Privacy Committee. The bill creates a legal framework for efforts to deny Californians access to essential needs and services – including healthcare, housing, and employment — based on a scan of their face.

“Facial recognition systems are a danger to people of color and to immigrants, all of whom are already being hit hardest by this pandemic," said Matt Cagle, Technology and Civil Liberties Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “Assemblymember Chau is repackaging this bill to make its intent seem more palatable during a public health crisis, but AB 2261 utterly fails as a response to COVID-19. At a time like this, we need to invest in public health, not waste money on dangerous and unnecessary tech.”

The opposition letters from civil rights organizations, public health scholars and technology scholars urge the Assembly Privacy Committee to consider the threats to public health and safety posed by facial recognition and biometric surveillance, especially for people of color and immigrants.

“If we let face recognition spread, we will see more deportations, more unjust arrests, and mass violations of civil rights and liberties.” said Sameena Usman, Government Relations Coordinator for the San Francisco office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “The California Assembly should reject AB 2261 and focus on passing legislation that will help all Californians through this crisis.”

Three California cities — San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley — have adopted bans on the government use of facial recognition. In January, more than two dozen San Diego-area police agencies terminated a seven-year facial recognition program after it failed to assist public safety. In 2019, members of the California Legislature were falsely matched against mugshots using facial recognition, which has been repeatedly demonstrated to be less accurate when used against Black people, people of Asian descent, and women. The New York Times has reported that ICE exploited multiple state databases to run face recognition on DMV photos and target immigrants for deportation.

The California Assembly reconvenes to consider legislation on Monday, May 4.

Civil Rights Coalition Opposition Letter:

Public Health Scholars Opposition Letter:

Technology Scholars Opposition Letter: