RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Senate voted on Feb. 15 to support broad surveillance powers for Virginia police departments, empowering them to use facial recognition databases to identify anyone involved in a “specific criminal incident, or a specific citizen welfare situation.”
SB 741 passed the senate on a vote of 26-14, with five Republican senators crossing the aisle to support the bill championed by Senate Democrats.
Senator Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) raised concerns over the scope of the facial recognition database, asking, “What is the database that they’re running this against?”
Senator Scott Surovell (D-Prince William), the bill’s patron, replied that it would essentially draw from a database of all publicly available images on the internet – including posts that may have been deleted by users from social media platforms, but retained by the companies.
The bill does place some restrictions on the technology, such as barring matches from being used to obtain search and arrest warrants.
Facial recognition technology employed by law enforcement has been criticized by advocates on the left and the right as a massive invasion of personal privacy.
Facial recognition technology was previously heavily restricted by the General Assembly. Under current law, only Virginia State Police are expressly permitted to use the technology in a limited capacity, while local police departments are required to get the explicit permission of the legislature.
If the bill is signed into law, local departments will be permitted to adopt a “model policy” developed by Virginia State Police to regulate use of the technology, but will be required to buy the software and database access from a vendor chosen by the state government.