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Maine passes the strongest state facial recognition ban yet

Maine passes the strongest state facial recognition ban yet


The law bans most use of the technology and adds accountability measures

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A series of wireframe faces.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The state of Maine now has the most stringent laws regulating government use of facial recognition in the country.

The new law prohibits government use of facial recognition except in specifically outlined situations, with the most broad exception being if police have probable cause that an unidentified person in an image committed a serious crime, or for proactive fraud prevention.

Since Maine police will not have access to facial recognition, they will be able to ask the FBI and Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) to run these searches.

Crucially, the law plugs loopholes that police have used in the past to gain access to the technology, like informally asking other agencies or third parties to run backchannel searches for them. Logs of all facial recognition searches by the BMV must be created and are designated as public records.

The ACLU trumpeted this new law as a major win for state action to block facial recognition.

“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,” Michael Kebede, a lawyer at the ACLU of Maine, said in a press release.

The only other state-wide facial recognition law was enacted by Washington in 2020, but many privacy advocates were dissatisfied with the specifics of the law. The Washington law gives police generous carve-outs to conduct surveillance with the technology and also allows the technology to be used to deny access to services like housing or education enrollment. Notably, it was written by State Senator Joe Nguyen, who is a current employee of Microsoft.

Virginia and Massachusetts legislatures have also banned some police use of facial recognition, but both fall short of regulating the tech in schools and other state agencies.

Maine’s new law also gives citizens the ability to sue the state if they’ve been unlawfully targeted by facial recognition, which was notably absent from Washington’s regulation. If facial recognition searches are performed illegally, they must be deleted and cannot be used as evidence.

The law was enacted after passing state legislature and will not require a signature from Maine Governor Janet Mills. It will go into effect on October 1st, 2021.