U.S. presidential Democratic candidates fear facial recognition, push for strict regulation

U.S. presidential Democratic candidates fear facial recognition, push for strict regulation

Facial recognition technology is a hot topic around every corner, with debates ranging from concerns about racial bias and disparity, to privacy, lack of regulation, and government abuse. A recent survey among 2020 U.S. presidential election Democratic candidates initiated by Vox found legislation is a key concern among Democratic politicians, who feel the technology needs too be better regulated to prevent risks and pitfalls.

Bernie Sanders, for example, believes facial recognition should be banned in law and immigration enforcement and has clearly explained his reasoning in a criminal justice reform plan his team published in August. Sanders argues the technology is unstable and it violates the right to privacy. Tom Steyer agrees with Sanders and says “facial recognition is unreliable, intrusive, has egregious racial biases, and has no place in policing.”

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, is not pushing for a ban, but is interested in starting a task force on digital privacy in public safety to enforce boundaries that protect privacy when surveillance technology is deployed.

Pete Buttigieg is concerned that people are not informed about the extent to which the technology is used. Claiming over half of U.S. adults are already in a police facial database, Buttigieg thinks it could be used for nefarious purposes in a criminal justice system already dealing with racial bias and disparity, which could turn into a violation of civil rights.

However, while he acknowledges the technology is “critical” to law enforcement in criminal investigations and to protect national security, he emphasizes the role society plays in how innovation is rolled out. Buttigieg is calling for guidelines to create a balance between privacy and public order, and wants to enforce federal legislation and standards to regulate technology.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet agrees with Sanders and Steyer that facial recognition technology could become a dangerous tool used not only in government surveillance and law enforcement, but manipulated by third parties. Bennet says there is a strong need for clear policy so the technology’s assets can be put to good use, while also dealing with privacy and bias concerns. Biometric data collected in the process needs to be secured and obtained with user consent.

Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) joined today a discussion about facial recognition at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation in Washington, D.C., after releasing a bipartisan bill in November called The Facial Recognition Technology Warrant Act of 2019. The bill would make a court order mandatory for federal law enforcement before using facial recognition technology to conduct targeted ongoing public surveillance.

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