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Legislation would block police from using facial recognition with body cam footage

Legislation would block police from using facial recognition with body cam footage

The newly introduced Stop Biometric Surveillance by Law Enforcement Act would ban federal law enforcement agencies from using facial recognition and other biometric surveillance technologies on video captured by body cameras.

Introduced by Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia who has also opposed widespread use of blockchain without adequate federal controls, his new bill would also bar state and local law enforcement agencies from purchasing body cameras with federal funds that incorporate facial recognition technology.

The bill would prohibit the “use [of] facial recognition technology or other biometric surveillance systems on any image acquired by body-worn cameras of law enforcement officers” if the cameras were purchased with federal Urban Area Security Initiative Grant monies.

“Unless Congress steps in to regulate them, once-futuristic technologies like facial recognition software and biometric surveillance could corrupt the purpose of police-worn body cameras from transparency and accountability into roving surveillance,” Beyer said in a statement, adding, “We must not allow tools which are designed to protect Americans’ civil rights to be used to systematically violate them.”

“As even their manufacturers admit,” he continued, “facial recognition software and other biometric surveillance tools are not yet accurate enough for deployment in law enforcement settings. Without oversight, this ‘Minority Report’ technology will be ripe for abuse,” emphasizing that, “At [the] present, we do not know how many police departments are deploying these systems or where they are being used. We do not know, for instance, the extent to which they were deployed recently to target peaceful protesters exercising their constitutionally-protected right to peaceful protest across the country. Those who use this technology face no public scrutiny or accountability, and it is hard to determine the extent to which it enables or increases racial profiling.”

Thus, Beyer stated, “Without a strong legal regulatory framework, facial recognition technology and biometric surveillance could lead to a slippery slope of unprecedented mass government surveillance in this country. That must not happen.”

The Stop Biometric Surveillance by Law Enforcement Act is endorsed by the Project on Government Oversight.

“The Stop Biometric Surveillance by Law Enforcement Act takes the critical step of preventing facial recognition from being used in body cameras,” said Senior Counsel for the Constitution Project at POGO Jake Laperruque. “Body cameras are meant to enhance trust and accountability, and ensuring they do not contain facial recognition—a dangerous surveillance technology prone to misidentification and susceptible to abuse—fosters that goal.”

Beyer’s office added that “the use of facial recognition technology and other biometric surveillance is becoming increasingly widespread by law enforcement,” where, “At present, there is no regulation of this technology at the federal level.”

The announcement cites a 2019 report by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) that found facial recognition algorithms misidentified more people of color than white people and misidentified women more than men. It went on to note that high error rates are attributed to algorithmic bias.

Beyer’s office also highlighted that “some states and localities, including California, have limited or banned the use of facial recognition or other biometric data surveillance tools in police-worn body cameras. Axon, the largest manufacturer of body cameras, decided not to commercialize the use of FRT because it is ‘not currently reliable enough to ethically justify its use on body-worn cameras.’”

“But other private companies including Clearview AI are rapidly developing biometric data surveillance systems and selling it to law enforcement agencies across the country,” his office’s statement said.

The so far unnumbered bill states, “Facial recognition and other biometric surveillance technology pose unique and significant threats to the civil rights and civil liberties of residents and visitors,” and that “the use of facial recognition and other biometric surveillance is the functional equivalent of requiring every person to show a personal photo identification card at all times in violation of recognized constitutional rights. This technology also allows people to be tracked without consent,” and it will “generate massive databases about law-abiding Americans, and may chill the exercise of free speech in public places.”

The legislation further states that “facial and other biometric surveillance would corrupt the core purpose of officer-worn body-worn cameras by transforming those devices from transparency and accountability tools into roving surveillance systems.”

In February 2018, Beyer stated at the joint House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittees on Oversight and Research and Technology hearing on Emerging Applications for Blockchain Technology, that, “blockchain technology has moved beyond cryptocurrencies into areas as diverse as the supply chain industry, healthcare, the clean energy sector, legal field, financial markets, and possibly even our election infrastructure [and have] the potential to offer better security, enhanced privacy, and transactional transparency,” however, “Blockchain appears to be a potentially disruptive technology, and government regulatory and law enforcement agencies are starting to figure out the ramifications of new blockchain-based services and applications.”

“These agencies have a difficult task ahead of them,” Beyer insisted, adding, “As a nation, I believe we want to ensure these blockchain-based technologies are used appropriately and that government regulations are not disregarded or intentionally circumvented by their use. At the same time, however, we want to encourage innovation and broad-based applications of blockchain-based technology when and where appropriate and advantageous.”

In his opening remarks, Beyer asked “what are the ethical issues surrounding emerging artificial intelligence and mimicking software, and where must we draw limits and regulate such technology? What are the security consequences of deploying autonomous vehicles, drones, and other similar technologies on our streets and in the air,” and, “what are the technical challenges, security concerns and ethical implications we face from a growing list of implantable medical devices and brain-computer interfaces?”

He also asked, “How can we, or should we, keep a closer eye on the deployment of commercially owned and operated biometric and other surveillance technologies both online, on the streets, and in retail stores across America?”

Beyer said he hopped there would be future hearings “that examine the wide-range of new and emerging technologies that are likely to affect Americans in distinct and dramatic ways. I am optimistic that our examination of blockchain-based technologies and their potential applications and implications is just the first of similar hearings … down the road.”

There have been many hearings regarding biometrics, AI, etc., and dozens of bills introduced, but as Biometric Update has reported, few have been passed or made it out of committee.

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