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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Two bills to regulate facial recognition technology advance

Stock photo.
vasare/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Stock photo.

Two bipartisan bills regulating the use of facial recognition technology in Montana have advanced to floor votes. The bills would limit the technology’s use by government agencies, law enforcement, and public schools.

Both of the bills are the result of a two-year effort by the Legislature to study the technology and how the data is used.

Republican Senator Kenneth Bogner from Miles City is the lead sponsor on Senate Bill 397, which would regulate the use of facial recognition technology by government agencies and law enforcement.

“Facial recognition technology is becoming more widespread, and it poses serious risks to Montana's privacy and due process rights,” Bogner said.

The bill would ban continuous facial surveillance, or generalized monitoring of public places using facial recognition. It would also require a warrant and limit law enforcement’s use of the technology to the investigation of serious crimes, searches for missing or endangered persons, and locating of a person believed to be deceased.

State agencies would be allowed to use the technology for verification purposes, for example to verify the identity of a person claiming unemployment insurance, but would have to provide notification of the technology’s use.

House Bill 690, introduced by Missoula Democratic Representative Katie Sullivan would also restrict use of the technology in public schools.

“Currently no laws exist in our state that limit the use of FRT- that’s facial recognition tech- in schools, or using the photos or biometrics of our school students. And this bill’s taking a first crack at that question,” Sullivan said.

Both bills would also regulate the use of Montanans facial recognition data collected by third party vendors providing the technology. The bills were unanimously advanced out of their respective committees.

Facial recognition technology has been put into at least one school district in Montana. The surveillance, characterized as a safety tool, is in use as policy makers in Montana debate how to regulate that kind of technology.

John joined the Montana Public Radio team in August 2022. Born and raised in Helena, he graduated from the University of Montana’s School of Media Arts and created the Montana history podcast Land Grab. John can be contacted at
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