Led by Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a group of US lawmakers has introduced a bicameral legislation to stop government use of biometric technology, including facial recognition tools, which they said violates the privacy of citizens and “deepens racial bias” in policing.
The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, introduced on Tuesday, responds to reports that hundreds of local, state and federal entities, including law enforcement agencies, have used unregulated facial recognition technologies and research showing that roughly half of US adults are already in facial recognition databases.
While Jayapal along with Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib introduced the legislation in the House of Representatives, Senators Edward J Markey, Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden introduced it in the Senate.
The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act would place a prohibition on the use of facial recognition technology by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress. It also prohibits 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.
The Act imposes conditions on 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 and prohibit the use of federal dollars for biometric surveillance systems. It prohibits the use of information collected via biometric technology in violation of the Act in any judicial proceedings.
“Facial recognition technology is not only invasive, inaccurate and unregulated, but it has also been unapologetically weaponised by law enforcement against Black people across this country. That’s why I have long called on companies like Amazon to stop selling this technology, and it’s why we need to immediately take additional steps to rein in its use,” Jayapal said.
“This legislation will not only protect civil liberties but aggressively fight back against racial injustice by stopping federal entities from using facial recognition and biometric surveillance tools while stripping support for state and local law enforcement departments that continue its use,” she added.
Senator Markey said the legislation is about rooting out systemic racism and stopping invasive technologies from becoming irreversibly imbedded in the US society.
“We do not have to forgo privacy and justice for safety…We simply cannot ignore the technologies that perpetuate injustice, and that means that law enforcement should not be using facial recognition tools today,” he said.
According to Senator Sanders, facial recognition technology violates the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, and deepens racial bias in policing.
“Enough is enough. Congress must ban the use of facial recognition technology for all law enforcement,” he said.
Facial recognition technology has been plagued with far too many problems for any government to use it responsibly. This technology has been misused against peaceful protestors, sent innocent people to jail and has proven to misidentify Black Americans and people with dark skin at elevated rates, Senator Wyden said.
“We cannot allow racist, faulty facial recognition technology to continue to be used in the surveillance and criminalisation of Black and Brown communities,” said Congresswoman Tlaib.
According to Congresswoman Pressley, facial recognition technology is flawed and systemically biased, and has exacerbated the criminalisation and over-surveillance that black and brown communities face.
“By banning government use of this discriminatory technology, our bill would boldly affirm the civil liberties of every person in this country and protect their right to live free of unjust surveillance by government and law enforcement,” she said.