Federal US bill to ban law enforcement face biometrics ‘coming soon’
A U.S. senator says he will soon be reintroducing the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium act, as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Washington Post add their voices to calls for a federal ban on U.S. law enforcement’s use of facial recognition.
States and cities across the U.S. have been implementing local-level restrictions on the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement agencies. Amazon, which has marketed the technology to such agencies has extended its own moratorium on sales indefinite.
Much of the movement against the use of facial recognition centers around false arrests based (or blamed, depending on your perspective) on mismatched images of people suspected of involvement in a crime. Black people have been disproportionately affected. Concerns about bias and the appropriate use of the technology led tech firms to take the decision to suspend the use of their services to police.
Campaign groups have been calling for federal-level legislation to tackle aspects of the deployment of facial recognition technology such as via police body cams.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), one of the co-sponsors for the 2020 bill for a moratorium on the use of the technology told Emerging Tech: “We can’t keep assuming that private companies like Amazon will implement their own moratoriums on technology that isn’t ready for prime time.
“That’s why I will soon be reintroducing the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, so we can establish a federal moratorium on the technology until critical safeguards are put in place to prevent bias and protect Americans’ right to privacy.”
Merkley’s state, Oregon, is one which has banned the use of facial recognition by local agencies and private organizations.
As Congress has proved slow to pass any law relating to face biometrics, campaign groups are continuing to mount pressure on the government.
“Face recognition and other modern surveillance technologies promise to continue a history that has shown itself to be incompatible with the freedoms and rights of Black and Brown communities,” says a statement of concerns from EPIC and forty other groups including Amnesty International USA and Demos.
“The most comprehensive approach to addressing the harms of face recognition would be to entirely cease its use by law enforcement.”
The document states that almost half of all U.S. adults are already in facial recognition databases used for criminal investigations. The lack of consent in compiling these databases and the poor quality of images they contain all contribute to what the statements concludes to be “dangerous technology.”
“If facial recognition is not regulated now, it will never be used responsibly,” is the headline for an opinion piece from the Washington Post, which has covered wrongful arrests made as a result of facial recognition mismatching.
The newspaper is owned by Amazon chief executive, Jeff Bezos.
“Congress should impose a moratorium on government use of facial recognition software until it has time to erect guardrails that would prevent these abuses,” states the editorial. “Those guardrails should include setting minimum performance standards that include tests for racial bias, require high confidence thresholds for matches, mandate reasonable suspicion or warrants for searches, and restrict real-time surveillance to public emergencies.”
Amnesty International released a report last week which used crowdsourced research to identify more than 15,000 security cameras in three New York City boroughs which they state are used by NYPD to track people via facial recognition as they move through the city.