Port of Seattle bans face-recognition biometric technology

Port of Seattle bans face-recognition technology

The Port of Seattle Commission has voted to permanently prohibit the use of biometric technology, including facial recognition, for law enforcement, security and mass surveillance purposes in maritime operations and by private-sector entities at its facilities.

The vote builds on a moratorium on new biometrics uses that Commissioners established in 2019 until policies could be reviewed and developed.

This action makes the Port of Seattle the first port authority in the nation to formally limit the use of biometric technology.

The new policies are also the strongest regulation of facial recognition biometrics by any government in the state of Washington, in that they extend to private sector operators as well as government employees.

The Commission also voted to regulate the use of biometrics for customer service functions and the Port’s response to federal international arrivals screening at Port facilities.

To the extent allowable under state and federal law, the Port will require that any such use of the technology must be fully voluntary and meet strict standards for privacy, equity and transparency.

Port Commissioner Sam Cho said, “No one at a Port facility should fear that the Port or a private-sector tenant is secretly capturing their biometrics or tracking them with biometric technology.

“Ports can and should take an active role in limiting and shaping the use of facial recognition technology.  We hope that other port authorities and governments will consider adopting the Port of Seattle model.”

Commissioners also directed the Port to continue advocating for federal legislation that institutes a moratorium on federal government use of public-facing biometrics except for uses explicitly authorized by the United States Congress.

Specifically, the policies ban the Port and all its tenants from using public-facing biometric for security purposes and mass surveillance and highly regulated for traveller functions, such as ticketing or bag checking.

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