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Legislation Introduced to Ban Government Use of Facial Recognition Tech

Argues that technology suffers from systematic inaccuracy and bias problems.

WASHINGTON—A bicameral effort is being taken to remove the use of biometric technology, including facial recognition tools, by government agencies at the federal and local levels.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) have introduced the legislation, “The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act,” as a response to reports that federal and local law enforcement entities have been engaging with facial recognition companies as well as research that points to systematic inaccuracies and bias issues toward non-white individuals, according to a press release from Markey’s office.

A recent report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that facial recognition tools are up to 100 times more likely to misidentify Black, Brown and Asian individuals than white male faces.

The specifics of the legislation are as followed:

  • Place a prohibition on the use of facial recognition technology by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress;
  • Place a prohibition on the use of other biometric technologies, including voice recognition, gate recognition and recognition of other immutable physical characteristics, by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress;
  • Condition federal grant funding to state and local entities, including law enforcement, on those entities enacting their own moratoria on the use of facial recognition and biometric technology;
  • Prohibit the use of federal dollars for biometric surveillance systems;
  • Prohibit the use of information collected via biometric technology in violation of the Act in any judicial proceedings;
  • Includes a private right of action for individuals whose biometric data is used in violation of the Act and allows for enforcement by state Attorneys General; and
  • Allow states and localities to enact their own laws regarding the use of facial recognition and biometric technologies.

“At a time when Americans are demanding that we address systemic racism in law enforcement, the use of facial recognition technology is a step in the wrong direction,” said Sen. Merkley. “Between the risks of sliding into a surveillance state we can’t escape from the dangers of perpetuating discrimination, this technology is not ready for prime time.”

The legislation has been endorsed by the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Color of Change, MediaJustice, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Free Press, Jewish Voice for Peace, MPower Change, the Athena Coalition, Project on Government Oversight, Georgetown University Law Center’s Center on Privacy & Technology and New America’s Open Technology Institute.

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