MTLeg Viewpoint: Protecting Constitutional Rights in Facial Recognition Technology
We know it’s possible to have an efficient and technologically adept state government, while also ensuring this technology doesn’t run roughshod over our rights as Montanans.
Facial recognition is a new technology with a growing number of uses, including use by government entities to identify citizens. While Montana state agencies are already using this technology, there aren’t any laws on the books to protect Montanans’ right to privacy or prevent their data from being sold. Our Democratic caucuses were concerned about having this much unchecked power in the government’s hands, so one of our members brought legislation during the last session to address this problem.
Rep. Katie Sullivan’s bill, HB 577, would have put some basic guardrails in place to limit state agencies’ use of facial recognition technology, to make sure our Constitutional right to privacy wasn’t being violated. Facial recognition could still be used by law enforcement to solve serious crimes, like kidnapping or human trafficking, while setting a clear standard for when Montanans’ data can be accessed. Her bill passed out of committee and even passed the full House of Representatives on its initial vote, thanks to a number of Republicans who recognized that this problem deserved a bipartisan solution. Unfortunately, not enough Republicans were willing to support this common-sense measure to get it over the finish line.
That setback didn’t erase the challenge or lessen our caucuses’ commitment to addressing this issue. Sullivan successfully pushed to put government use of facial recognition technology on the agenda for study during the interim before the next session. Her efforts have been critical for helping us understand how Montana’s state agencies are currently using this technology, and what third-party software is being used to collect and hold Montanans’ data. Going forward, we expect her interim study will also help us understand whether those third parties are or aren’t sharing Montanans’ data. We’re looking forward to seeing the results of her study, and hope it will result in a consensus bill for the next session that puts some privacy protections in place, similar to what Sullivan initially envisioned.
We know it’s possible to have an efficient and technologically adept state government, while also ensuring this technology doesn’t run roughshod over our rights as Montanans. And it isn’t just possible–it’s our duty as elected officials. We’re optimistic the information we’re gathering through this interim process will give the Legislature the knowledge and confidence to pass legislation that strikes this critical balance.
House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, represents House District 83. Senate Minority Leader Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, represents Senate District 42.
Frontier Institute’s Mtleg Viewpoint series provides an opportunity once per month for Montana legislators to deliver an update about topics that matter to our followers. Offers to publish columns were made and remain open to both the Legislative Majority and Minority. Opinions expressed by guest authors do not necessarily represent the positions of the Frontier Institute.