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Legislative Committee Backs Proposed Limits On Maine Agencies Using Facial Recognition Software

Gillian Flaccus
FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2019, file photo, Sheriff's Office Deputy Jeff Talbot in Washington County, Oregon demonstrates how his agency used facial recognition software to help solve a crime, at their headquarters in Hillsboro, Ore. The image on the left shows a man whose face was captured on a surveillance camera and investigators used the software to scan their database of past mug shots to match that facial image with an identity.

Maine could become one of the first states in the nation to adopt limits on the use of facial recognition software by government agencies.

But while the nine members of the Legislature's criminal justice committee support the bill, sheriffs in Maine say they're opposed.

Under the proposal, law enforcement could only use the technology when investigating the most serious of crimes such as murder and rape.

It would require police to apply the probable cause standard to justify requesting a search of Bureau of Motor Vehicles or FBI databases.

Portland Democratic Representative Grayson Lookner sponsored the bill and worked with Maine State Police and BMV to develop the language.

“It’s going to put some guardrails up around the usage of this technology. It has more accountability," Lookner says.

The Maine Sheriffs Association does not support the bill, on the grounds that the technology is still evolving and that lawmakers should wait for further development of the software tools before deciding what limits are needed.

"The software is just not there," says Aroostook County Sheriff Shawn Gillen. "It is technology that is not fully developed yet, and we are concerned about the future.”

The measure now goes to the full legislature.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.