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Update: Youngkin to support bill authorizing police use of facial recognition technology

Person with mask speaks into microphone
Crixell Matthews
Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) at a 2022 subcommittee meeting. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Editor's note: This story was updated on April 12 at 3:38 p.m. following action from Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced on Monday that he’ll support a bill to allow local law enforcement and campus police to use facial recognition technology - but he’s asking the General Assembly to make some changes first.  

“We engaged stakeholders on important issues in community safety and provided a commonsense path forward on facial recognition technology for law enforcement without compromising individual freedoms,” Youngkin said in a press release.

The proposed changes require additional training and support from the Virginia State Police - which already uses the technology. On April 27, the General Assembly will reconvene to consider the governor’s amendments.

Youngkin met with stakeholders late last month to talk about the legislation.  The bill would allow law enforcement to use photos from Facebook and Instagram to help track down crime suspects and even identify victims.

Right now, local and campus police are not allowed to use facial recognition technology.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and other civil rights groups call the practice “reckless, invasive and ripe for abuse”. They say it’s disproportionately used in Black and Brown communities and has shown to be inaccurate in identifying people of color. 

But Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), who introduced the bill during the General Assembly session this year, says the proposal is largely misunderstood. It prohibits the use of facial recognition technology for surveillance or monitoring and it states that the technology has to be found by the National Institute of Standards and Technologyto have 98% accuracy  and a minimum deviation across racial subgroups. 

Surovell  adds it is more accurate than current policing methods used to identify people, including lineups, which he says have a 40% error rate. 

“From my point of view, I think this technology will actually result in fewer people being wrongfully charged and wrongfully accused,” he said. 

Surovell said he was not invited to the meeting. Gov. Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter responded by email to VPM’s request for comment. She declined to say who would be at the meeting but said it’s an  important topic for both community safety and personal privacy. 

The bill passed the House and the Senate with bipartisan support. 

This story was produced with assistance from the  Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.