Montana Tackles Facial Recognition

Digital privacy continues to be a very popular issue across the country in 2023. However, because much of the focus is aimed at the private sector, it can be easy to overlook the government’s actions in this domain. Fortunately, there are state lawmakers who are diligently working to erect digital safeguards to protect citizens from undue intrusion by government agencies.

A simple search on LegiScan for “government surveillance and warrant” reveals the hundreds of bills introduced in legislatures nationwide during 2023 alone. As we’ve highlighted in past articles, Montana continues to be at the forefront of this movement with protections against warrantless searches of private genetic databases, third-party data, and now, facial recognition technology.

Senator Kenneth Bogner, who helped usher through the state’s constitutional protections for digital data, returned this year with Senate Bill 793, which prevents the utilization of, and obtaining data from, facial recognition technology by the Department of Justice and local law enforcement agencies without a warrant or court order.

Facial recognition is part of a larger subcategory of technology called biometric authentication, or simply biometrics. These security processes utilize body measurements and other physical characteristics like fingerprints, face shape, or voice to confirm someone’s identity. Odds are your cell phone uses a biometric identifier as a part of its security system.

Facial recognition isn’t only being used for security purposes though. Law enforcement agencies across the country are increasingly adding biometric surveillance technology to their arsenal of tools to track down criminals. This approach has been cause for multiple concerns: The first being stories of innocent people — like Randal Reid and Alonzo Sawyer — being wrongfully identified and arrested. And the second being gross violations of privacy. 

The Fourth Amendment in the US Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by way of the federal government. Many state constitutions are worded similarly. As our world becomes ever more digital, it’s essential that our right to privacy from governments of all sizes are uploaded with us.

This is why we celebrate yet another win for citizens of the Treasure State and highlight the important roles Senator Bogner, the Frontier Institute, and Americans For Prosperity Montana all played in proactively defending the privacy of Montanans.

Digital privacy is an issue Libertas Institute has researched extensively, and we stand ready to help your state pursue similar opportunities like those of Montana. For groups or legislators in other states looking to work on the issue, we’d love to help!