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Bill regulating facial recognition technology debated

State Sen. Kenneth Bogner (R-Miles City) speaks during a committee hearing on Thursday morning. (Photo: MPAN)
State Sen. Kenneth Bogner (R-Miles City) speaks during a committee hearing on Thursday morning. (Photo: MPAN)
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A bipartisan bill to create standards for how the government utilizes facial recognition technology is debated in Helena.

Senate Bill 397, sponsored by State Sen. Kenneth Bogner (R-Miles City) had its initial hearing on Thursday morning in the chamber’s Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee.

An interim committee spent two years to craft this bill, which creates 17 new sections of Montana code and would ban state and local governments from continuously surveilling people via facial recognition.

It would also regulate the use of the technology by law enforcement, so that it can only be used in certain criminal investigations. The data would also have to be destroyed once the “initial purpose for collecting or obtaining the data has been satisfied.”

Legislators say they will be proposing a separate bill to deal with this technology in schools.

Currently, there are no regulations on government use of this technology in Montana.

Proponents say this is a vital step towards protecting privacy at a time when use of this technology is skyrocketing.

“Other cities and states around the country have gone for an outright ban right away and then have to walk it back,” said Kendall Cotton, president and CEO of the Frontier Institute. “This is continuing to enable the beneficial uses of facial recognition technology that support law enforcement and make our government more efficient.”

The other proponent was State Rep. Katie Sullivan (D-Missoula), one of the members of the interim committee that helped put this bill together.

Opponents believe it will harm law enforcement efforts and say the bill needs to be amended.

“Drug trafficking and human trafficking are at all-time highs. We should not be talking about taking away tools from law enforcement as they try to curb the rise of these issues,” said E.J. Redding, who was representing the Security Industry Association.

Also opposing the bill are the Montana County Attorney Association and the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officer Association.

The bill would not have any impact on the use of the technology at ports and federal airports.

It would be effective immediately upon passage and retroactive to the start of 2022 for contracts with the state government.

No fiscal or legal note has been attached to the bill yet.

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