Facial recognition is doing harm right now. Lawmakers need to stop dragging their feet and pass the Biometric Technology Moratorium Act

Posted July 13, 2021, 5:31 PM

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The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing today on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology. Witnesses included Robert Williams, a Black man from Detroit who was falsely arrested in front of his wife and children and held by police for more than thirty hours after he was misidentified by a racist facial recognition system. 

Read a play-by-play of the hearing on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/evan_greer/status/1414951318368751630 

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle raised significant concerns about this technology. But reporters should be asking them whether they’re going to do anything about it, by supporting the Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, recently reintroduced by Rep Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA.) 

Below is a statement from Fight for the Future, which can be attributed to Director, Evan Greer (she/her):

Facial recognition has already gotten innocent people arrested and jailed. How long before it gets someone killed? Law enforcement and government agencies are using this uniquely dangerous biometric surveillance technology on millions of people right now. We don’t have time to debate about "regulatory standards" that will ultimately fail to reduce the harm of this fundamentally discriminatory technology. Lawmakers need to do their jobs right now and pass the Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, a simple bill that would put an immediate stop to the use of this Orwellian technology, giving us time to have real conversations about the role of artificial intelligence and biometric technologies in our society. 

Any lawmaker who refuses to support a moratorium on police use of facial recognition is actively enabling racism and discrimination in policing, and allowing law enforcement to continue using this technology to target people who are engaged in First Amendment protected protest activities. Facial recognition surveillance is more like nuclear or biological weapons than it is like alcohol and cigarettes. It’s too dangerous to be effectively regulated. We need to simply prohibit its use. 

The GAO report confirmed what we already know—that law enforcement and government agencies are using facial recognition technology on millions of people across the U.S. But we also know that certain communities are being targeted by the technology and harmed more than others—at least three Black men have been misidentified by facial recognition and arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. People crossing the border are being forced to give up their biometric information and to be under constant surveillance. Six federal agencies, as well as local police, have used facial recognition to identify people protesting racist policing and the murder of George Floyd.

It’s disturbing to watch lawmakers who claim to be in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement regurgitate talking points from Big Tech companies, surveillance vendors, and law enforcement agencies. Specifically, it’s unacceptable for Democrats to point to the use of facial recognition on the Capitol rioters as an excuse to not support a moratorium on a technology that is disproportionately harming the very same communities that those who stormed the Capitol were trying to disenfranchise. I wrote more about this in a piece for FastCompany back in January. 

You can’t fight racism and authoritarianism with racist and authoritarian surveillance technology. Even if the algorithms improve, facial recognition will still be racist and discriminatory. It will still pose a unique threat to the future of human liberty and free expression. We reiterate our call for an outright ban on both government and private use of facial recognition surveillance.

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