Government drops plan for mandatory face scans for travelers. Now Congress needs to ban facial recognition

Posted December 5, 2019, 7:33 PM

Contact: Evan Greer, 978-852-6457,

Following swift backlash, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has reportedly dropped its proposal to require all travelers in and out of the US, including US citizens, to have their “mugshot” taken in what would have been a radical expansion of the government’s facial recognition surveillance programs.

“Innocent people shouldn’t have to get their mugshot taken or get their face scanned in order to travel. Ubiquitous facial recognition at airports would be a reckless step toward a dystopian future that we won’t want to leave to our children,” said Evan Greer (she/her), deputy director of Fight for the Future, “It’s great to hear that the widespread opposition to the spread of this technology forced the US government to shelve the proposal for now. But we’ll need to remain vigilant. Congress should pass laws to ban the use of facial recognition for surveillance purposes. Without a ban, our basic human rights are at risk”

Fight for the Future is behind the campaign, which has been endorsed my more than 30 major grassroots civil rights organizations including Greenpeace, Color of Change, Daily Kos, United We Dream, Council on American Islamic Relations, MoveOn, and Free Press. The groups are calling for local, state, and federal lawmakers to ban law enforcement use of facial recognition. Several cities have already banned the controversial technology outright, including  San Francisco, Somerville, MA, Berkeley, CA, and Oakland, CA, and there is growing bipartisan support in Congress to address the issue at the federal level.

Fight for the Future recently made headlines by dealing the first major blow to the commercial spread of facial recognition in the US. Alongside artists like Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, the group pushed 40 of the worlds largest music festivals to clearly state they have no plans to use face recognition at their events. Morello and FFTF deputy director Evan Greer wrote about the significance of the victory in a widely shared Buzzfeed News op-ed. The group also conducted live facial recognition surveillance inside the halls of Congress, to show that face surveillance algorithms are dangerous even when they work properly. 

We oppose attempts by the tech industry (including Amazon) and law enforcement to pressure Congress to pass an industry-friendly “regulatory framework” for facial recognition that would allow this dangerous technology to spread quickly with minimal restrictions intended to assuage public opposition. But we support narrower efforts to ban or restrict specifically egregious uses of this surveillance, such as a bill introduced recently to ban the use of facial recognition in public housing. For more on our position, read our op-ed “Don’t regulate facial recognition. Ban it.”