Fight for the Future


Kamala Harris repeats Silicon Valley and law enforcement talking points on facial recognition

Posted 14:26 EDT on September 9, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9, 2019
Contact: Evan Greer, 978-852-6457, press@fightforthefuture.org

While Bernie Sanders is calling for a federal ban, Harris will only commit to vague “regulations and protections”

Today, 2020 presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris released details of her criminal justice platform. While Senator Bernie Sanders –– and more than 30 major civil liberties, immigration, and public interest groups––have called for a complete federal ban on law enforcement use of controversial facial recognition surveillance technology, Senator Harris’ plan appears to fall far short of that. Instead, it repeats talking points that have been pushed by law enforcement agencies and Big Tech companies like Microsoft and Amazon, calling for vague “regulations and protections,” which experts say would fail to address the harms inherent in facial recognition surveillance. 

“Facial recognition poses a unique threat to human liberty and basic rights –– any candidate who wants to be taken seriously on criminal justice issues should be calling for an outright ban, or at the very least a moratorium on current use of this tech. Senator Harris’ plan says she will work with civil rights and technology organizations, but she already seems to be ignoring us,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, “There is growing consensus among public interest groups and tech experts that law enforcement must be banned from using facial recognition entirely. Industry-friendly regulations will only serve to speed up the adoption and spread of this uniquely dangerous and invasive surveillance technology.” 

Senator Harris’ disappointing position comes amid growing backlash to facial recognition surveillance that has been spreading across the country. Last month Fight for the Future launched our BanFacialRecognition.com campaign, along with an interactive map showing where in the US facial recognition surveillance is being used, and also where there are local and state efforts to ban it. Since then, 30+ organizations including MoveOn, Greenpeace, Daily Kos, Color of Change, and CAIR have endorsed that campaign. San Francisco, Somerville, MA, and Oakland, CA, recently became the first cities in the country to ban the technology. Berkeley, CA and Cambridge, MA are also considering bans, and bills to halt current use of the tech are moving in the Massachusetts and Michigan legislatures. In Congress, there is growing bipartisan agreement to address the issue, but it could easily stall under pressure from law enforcement and big tech.

Fight for the Future, which is a non-profit that does not endorse candidates for office, opposes attempts by the tech industry 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 in Buzzfeed News: “Don’t regulate facial recognition. Ban it.”

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