Lines hardening in the battle for facial recognition’s use by law enforcement

Lines hardening in the battle for facial recognition’s use by law enforcement

A moratorium on use of biometrics for surveillance by all federal agencies was proposed last week by two U.S. Senators and two U.S. Representatives, all Democrats. The legislation would also cut federal aid to states and municipalities that do not enact similar legislation, and give individuals the right to sue over violations.

Supporters of the measure say biometrics and, specifically, facial recognition, has already become invasive and too pervasive. They also say that while vendors maintain that the best algorithms are not biased against non-white males, a recent wrongful arrest based on the technology seems to undercut that argument.

The Security Industry Association has come out hard against the legislation. Some biometrics have been used by all levels of U.S. governments for a decade, according to the group’s response, making society safer. And continuous use, association members say, will result in innovations that make the technology better.

There is no end date for the proposed moratorium, nor are requirements for ending the prohibition stated.

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2020 arrives at an interesting time for this kind of bill.

First, it is a presidential election year and, at the moment the flagging incumbent President is appealing to law-and-order voters as the stock markets and economy fall. Taking away policing tools is not a popular idea in the White House or among Senate Republicans, who control the body.

Second, the Democratic-held House of Representatives is busy with an unusually broad roster of social-justice issues to tackle. Even if Democrats were not otherwise occupied, politicians generally avoid technology legislation. They do not invest the time to understand tech details, and they do not want to be held responsible for crushing a potential economic golden egg.

And last, the electorate is mixed in an interesting way on technological surveillance. Those suffering from police brutality as well as those protesting the injustices feel wrongly targeted by authorities. The same is true for those showing up armed with weapons to protest COVID-19-focused measures.

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