Congress introduces legislation that effectively bans law enforcement use of facial recognition surveillance in the US
New Legislation Bans The Use Of Facial Recognition Surveillance
Today lawmakers in the House and Senate jointly introduced legislation that effectively bans law enforcement use of facial recognition in the United States. The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2020 is sponsored by Senators Markey and Merkley as well as Representatives Jayapal and Pressley. It would immediately stop Federal agencies in the US from using facial recognition technology, and would require local and state law enforcement agencies to enact a similar policy banning use of facial recognition in order to receive Federal grants through the Byrne grant program. There is no time limit on the ban –– it would stop the use of the technology unless Congress passes a law to “un-ban” it.
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The legislation comes just one day after Robert Williams, a Black man in Detroit who was falsely arrested in front of his family due to a racially biased facial recognition algorithm, told his story in the Washington Post.
Fight for the Future, the digital rights group behind BanFacialRecognition.com, a coalition of dozens of organizations calling for an outright ban on law enforcement use of facial recognition, issued the following statement, which can be attributed to Deputy Director Evan Greer (pronouns: she/her):
“Facial recognition is a uniquely dangerous form of surveillance. This is not just some Orwellian technology of the future –– it’s being used by law enforcement agencies across the country right now, and doing harm to communities right now. Facial recognition is the perfect technology for tyranny. It automates discriminatory policing and exacerbates existing injustices in our deeply racist criminal justice system. This legislation effectively bans law enforcement use of facial recognition in the United States. That’s exactly what we need right now. We give this bill our full endorsement.
The Passage Of The Bill
Congress should pass this bill as soon as possible. Republican lawmakers especially who have been speaking out about civil liberties and privacy in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis will expose themselves as hypocrites if they do not quickly endorse this legislation. Once this bill is passed, Congress should move quickly to pass legislation that also bans corporations, schools, and other private institutions from using facial recognition for surveillance purposes.
Facial recognition is like nuclear or biological weapons. It poses such a threat to the future of human society that any potential benefits are outweighed by the inevitable harms. This inherently oppressive technology cannot be reformed or regulated. It should be abolished.”
Since last year, 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. In February, the group expanded its 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. The group is also providing support for activists on the ground pushing for bans at the local level. Boston just became the largest city on the east coast to ban government use of facial recognition. Detroit City Council is expected to vote soon on whether to renew their police department’s contract with a facial recognition vendor.
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. The group then worked with Students for a Sensible Drug Policy to get more than 60 prominent colleges and universities to confirm they won’t use facial recognition on campus. 150+ university faculty issued an open letter echoing student demands to ban the use of face surveillance on college campuses. Students across the country held a national day of action in March.
Fight for the Future is continuing to run campaigns in defense of basic human rights and civil liberties during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, the group launched TakeThisSeriously.org, a pledge calling on people to listen to public health officials, practice social distancing, and fight back against attempts by governments and corporations to exploit the crisis by expanding surveillance or cracking down on human rights. The group is also running high profile campaigns to stop the encryption-killing EARN IT act, oppose the reauthorization of FISA and USA PATRIOT ACT surveillance authorities, and end Amazon’s 1,300+ Ring doorbell partnerships with police. They recently had a major victory pressuring Zoom to change course and offer end-to-end encryption to all users.