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Biometric surveillance opposition erupting globally like summer temperatures



Diffuse and sporadic efforts globally to stop governments from using biometric systems to indiscriminately identify people in public are becoming focused and more aligned in aims.

Just since July 1, people wanting to halt public funds being used for facial recognition and similar systems have launched campaigns in the United States, the European Union and India.

Opposition to biometrics and behavior-identification software and hardware is not new in the three nations, and citizens of many other nations are growing uneasy with digital surveillance, with varying degrees of opposition. But, as the developments this month alone indicate, the public privacy movement appears to be gaining cohesion.

In the United States, dozens of civil rights, social justice, religious, investment and other organizations published a letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives urging action “to prevent the continued use and investment in facial recognition technology.”

The group is demanding the passage of legislation, including the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, that will at a minimum temporarily stop the federal funding and deployment of systems until public debate can catch up to the technology.

Perhaps the most stinging point made in the letter is that “this technology has been deployed largely in secret, undermining principles of democratic governance.”

The next day, Raja Krishnamoorthi, the chairman of the House economic and consumer policy subcommittee, said he had contacted Amazon executives in a similar quest.

Krishnamoorthi said he wants Amazon to refrain from sharing with police agencies information that is collected by the company’s subsidiary, home surveillance systems maker Ring Inc. Amazon executives have said they will halt police access to their biometric face scanning systems.

Their Microsoft and IBM counterparts joined in suspending access to the technology. The trio want Washington to settle the legalities for them.

Across the Atlantic, the European Union’s watchdog for institutional data protection matters said it is pushing the EU for a moratorium on government use of facial recognition systems.

Among the technologies deserving of a temporary freeze, according to the watchdog, are systems that surveil “gait, fingerprints, DNA, voice, keystrokes and other biometric and behavioral signals.”

The agency has said the technology are “not mature enough or not discussed enough to open their use in public spaces.”

Also speaking up in the last week was the Internet Freedom Foundation in India. The group outlined its growing concern about the erosion of constitutional rights by indiscriminate use of public face scanning systems.

The group, formed to defend online freedom in that nation, investigated use of facial recognition systems by police in India’s capitol, Delhi, last year. In December, foundation members asked the agency to stop using it, a request that apparently has been ignored.

After a formal request for information from the foundation, the Delhi government reportedly based its right to continue on a court decision allowing the department to use face scans to re-unite missing children. The advocacy group has said that police officials have admitted they are using the systems for face-matching in investigations unrelated to missing children.

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