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No facial recognition in police body cameras, manufacturer vows

Axon's declaration comes as California looks to ban facial recognition in body cameras.

close up of a body camera on the torso of a police officer
An Axon body camera on a Los Angeles Police Department officer. The manufacturer said Thursday it won't use facial recognition software in its body cameras.
Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images

Police body cameras made by manufacturer Axon won't use facial recognition software, the company said in a statement Thursday. The announcement comes amid a debate over how police should use facial recognition software, and as cities and states consider bans of the technology.

Axon said it made the decision after an ethics board it convened said that facial recognition technology isn't accurate enough to use in body cameras.

"Until face recognition can accurately help law enforcement officers identify individuals, the Board agrees that it should be kept off body cameras," said Jim Bueermann, a member of the Axon board of ethics who served as the president of the National Police Foundation and the police chief in Redlands, California.

Concerns over facial recognition are spurring a push to regulate police surveillance technology. The tech isn't widely used in police body cameras, but activists and privacy advocates fear it could be in the near future.

The California legislature is considering a law that would proactively ban its use in body cameras. What's more, cities in Massachusetts are considering bans on any police use of the technology, and San Francisco has already passed such a ban. Finally, the backlash against facial recognition is prompting more cities to consider laws that require audits and public feedback on the use of all surveillance technology.

Matt Cagle, an attorney with ACLU Northern California, applauded Axon for its decision and urged Microsoft and Amazon to follow suit. However, he said that facial recognition software should not be used in body cameras even if it is more accurate in the future.

"Body cameras should be for police accountability, not surveillance of communities," Cagle said in a statement. "Face surveillance technology is ripe for discrimination and abuse, and fundamentally incompatible with body cameras -- regardless of its accuracy."