Lawmakers must ban facial recognition surveillance

Clearview’s leaked client list shows why lawmakers must ban facial recognition surveillance for both government and corporations

A bombshell story just published by Buzzfeed News sheds light on the client list of Clearview, one of the most controversial companies selling facial recognition surveillance software. The list, which includes more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies, also includes employees at major corporations including Macy’s, Best Buy, Verizon, and AT&T, as well as a number of colleges and universities. The company’s failure to secure this list also underscores exactly why facial recognition surveillance makes us all less safe, not more safe. If Clearview can’t even keep their client list secure, how can we trust companies like them to safeguard the sensitive biometric information they collect?

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Ban The Use Of Facial Recognition Surveillance

“This is a crisis for our democracy,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, “Lawmakers need to get off their butts, do their jobs, and pass legislation to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance, not just by government agencies but by corporations too. There are so many terrifying, abusive, and discriminatory ways that private companies could use this type of biometric surveillance. Clearview is just the tip of the iceberg. Even if they shut down tomorrow there would be a dozen even shadier companies ready to take their place. The only solution is for Congress to ban facial recognition. And they should do it yesterday.”

Fight for the Future has been leading a national campaign backed by dozens of other grassroots organizations calling for an outright ban on law enforcement and government use of facial recognition. Today we are officially expanding our efforts to explicitly call for lawmakers to also ban private individuals, institutions, and corporations from using this technology in public places, for surveillance purposes, or without the subjects’ knowledge and affirmative consent, such as unlocking a phone. Even seemingly innocuous uses of facial recognition, like speeding up lines or using your face as a form of payment, normalize the act of handing over sensitive biometric information and pose a serious threat to security and civil liberties.

“What the hell is a company like Verizon doing with this technology?” added Greer, “Are they using it to target activist groups like Fight for the Future who are opposing their attacks on net neutrality and Internet privacy? Are they using it to monitor their own employees? Whatever they’re doing with it, they shouldn’t be allowed to. This technology is as dangerous as nuclear or biological weapons. Lawmakers need to stop dragging their feet and ban facial recognition.”

A Major Backlash From Students

The news comes on the same day that 150+ university faculty issued an open letter echoing student demands to ban the use of face surveillance on college campuses. Students across the country are planning a national day of action this Monday, March 2nd involving protests, teach-ins, and letter deliveries. We will be urgently escalating our efforts targeting the colleges and universities that appear in Clearview’s client list. Those schools are setting themselves up for major backlash from students. Protests recently forced UCLA to abandon its plans to implement facial recognition on campus.

Columbia University previously issued a statement to Fight for the Future saying “We do not have facial recognition technology on this campus nor do we plan to have any.” But the school appears in Clearview’s client list. Florida International University apparently ran more than 200 searches. What were they looking for? Targeting students who attended protests? Looking for undocumented students? Busting students for smoking weed? Just stalking students they found attractive? We have no way of knowing.

Based on Buzzfeed News reporting, it seems likely that a university employee was using the technology without the administration’s knowledge. This underscores the need for administrators to enact policies to ban the use of this technology on their campuses and hold employees accountable if they conduct unethical experiments on students with invasive, racially biased facial recognition software.

Majors Music Festivals Confirm To Not Use Facial Recognition

Fight for the Future worked with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and other artists to lead a successful campaign to keep facial recognition technology out of US music festivals and live concerts. More than 40 of the worlds’ largest festivals including Coachella, Bonnaroo, and SXSW confirmed they won’t use the tech at their events.

Deputy Director Evan Greer concluded, “People are organizing everywhere to keep facial recognition surveillance from invading more and more of our public spaces. These campaigns are helping draw a line in the sand and slow down the spread of this Orwellian technology. That can buy us some time, but it can only do so much. The clock is ticking for lawmakers to ban facial recognition before it’s too late.”