Lawmakers Intro Bill to Ban Government Use of Facial Recognition

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A bicameral group of lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation that would prevent the federal government from using facial recognition and other biometric technologies.

The bill—endorsed by several civil society groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation—would prohibit federal agencies from using facial recognition and other biometric technologies, including voice recognition or face-scanning surveillance tech. Further, it would prohibit the use of federal dollars on biometric surveillance systems.

The legislation comes amid controversy over expanding use of face-scanning and biometric technologies used by cities, states and federal agencies and law enforcement. A 2021 audit by Congress’ research arm found that 18 of the largest 24 federal agencies deployed facial recognition technology, and reports suggest the technology is far more likely to misidentify minorities.

“The year is 2023, but we are living through 1984. The continued proliferation of surveillance tools like facial recognition technologies in our society is deeply disturbing,” Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement. “Biometric data collection poses serious risks of privacy invasion and discrimination, and Americans know they should not have to forgo personal privacy for safety. As we work to make our country more equitable, we cannot ignore the technologies that stand in the way of progress and perpetuate injustice.”

Markey, along with Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced the legislation in the Senate. 

In the House, the legislation was introduced by Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Cori Bush, D-Mo., Greg Casar, D-Texas, Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.,  and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

“Facial recognition technology is not only invasive, inaccurate and unregulated but it has also been weaponized by law enforcement against Black and Brown people across this country. That’s why I have long called on government to halt the deployment of facial recognition technology, and it’s why we need to immediately take additional steps to evaluate its effectiveness,” Jayapal said in a statement. “This legislation will not only preserve civil liberties but aggressively fight back against injustice by stopping federal entities from irresponsibly using facial recognition and biometric surveillance tools.”

The legislation has been introduced twice before in Congress—in 2020 and 2021—but stalled both times.