U.S government asks for feedback on restricting biometrics exports to avoid human rights violations

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The U.S. government is considering restricting the sale of face biometrics and other surveillance technologies to overseas customers in order to protect human rights around the world.

The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has published a request for public comment to the Federal Register on ‘Advanced Surveillance Systems and Other Items of Human Rights Concern.’

A range of technologies will be considered for addition to the Export Administration Regulations’ (EAR) Commerce Control List (CCL), including facial recognition software and other biometric systems, “dazzlers” or non-lethal visual disruption lasers, long range acoustic devices, police helmets, fingerprint readers and components, powders, dyes and inks used in fingerprinting, biometric voice recognition systems and their components, polygraphs, nonmilitary mobile crime scene laboratories (if they include any of the restricted items), and a host of others. The items are proposed for limitation for “crime control and detection (CC) reasons.”

BIS wants to know how to distinguish between the consumer or commercial applications of the above technologies and law enforcement or security services ones. The bureau is also asking what the impact of adding, modifying, or removing the items from the CCL list will be on human rights, and how changes in controls will affect U.S. businesses.

Comments are sought from the public, trade and industry organizations, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and academia.

The request outlines non-threatening applications of facial recognition and other biometrics, and ways that technologies to support them could be sold while restricting others that negatively affect human rights, such as with criteria based on consent. BIS asks whether modalities should be individually targeted, or controls should be applied to biometric systems generally.

The use of facial recognition in China’s Xinjiang region is specifically cited as a concern, and high definition cameras used in such systems generally do not require a license, according to the document. Fingerprint and voice recognition technology, by contrast, require a government license for export from the U.S.

The U.S. has already placed restrictions on many companies based in China for allegedly participating in human rights violations in Xinjiang in multiple rounds.

Comments are due by September 15, 2020.

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