By Aaron Kesel
Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass. and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced a bill that seeks to ban the use of facial recognition and biometric surveillance technology by federal law enforcement agencies, NBC reported.
The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, supported by Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. comes at a time where policing and surveillance tools are being heavily scrutinized amid widespread protests after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as subsequent police brutality events following the protest, as Activist Post reported.
This also comes months after an airport in Atlanta implemented biometric technology, including facial-recognition cameras and other ID systems that plug into a data backbone installed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The CBP aims to screen passengers with little human intervention at airports across the country, Activist Post previously reported.
In fact, some of the biggest airports in the country — estimated at 16 airports across the U.S. — are now scanning us as we board international flights. While CBP expects to scale up the program to cover more than 97 percent of passengers flying outside of the U.S. by 2021, according to Nextgov.
“Facial recognition technology doesn’t just pose a grave threat to our privacy, it physically endangers Black Americans and other minority populations in our country,” Markey said in a statement. “As we work to dismantle the systematic racism that permeates every part of our society, we can’t ignore the harms that these technologies present.”
Preventing government from using the surveillance technology is the “only responsible thing to do,” Markey added.
The bill would make it unlawful for any federal agency or official to “acquire, possess, access or use” any biometric surveillance technology in the United States. It would also prohibit the use of federal funds to purchase biometric surveillance cameras and software.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over its use of facial recognition technology in airports.
Activist Post previously reported that U.S. Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass. called for halting facial recognition technologies in airports and warned against moving forward without sufficient protections for data being collected, during a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Security on the use of biometric tech.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also endorsed the recent legislation stating the following.
“Congress should pass this bill,” said Neema Singh Guliani, the ACLU’s senior legislative counsel. “It’s clear that this surveillance technology has been deployed without legislative approval or public debate about whether we should be using it at all. It’s time we put the brakes on the use of this technology and stopped funding invasive and discriminatory surveillance structures.”
Previously, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California tested Amazon’s facial Rekognition software and the program erroneously and hilariously identified 28 members of Congress as people who have been arrested for crimes. However, out of those 28, the ACLU’s test flagged six members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), as Activist Post reported.
Facial recognition historically has resulted in more false positives for African-Americans. More recently, Detroit police falsely arrested a black man after security video that had recorded a robbery was put through facial recognition technology. Robert Julian-Borchak Williams was detained after he was falsely accused of stealing five watches from a retail store, NPR reported.
The ACLU of Michigan filed a complaint against the Detroit Police Department asking that police stop using the software in investigations.
Academic and government studies have also demonstrated that facial recognition systems misidentify people of color more often.
Activist Post previously reported on another test of facial recognition technology in Britain which resulted in 35 false matches and 1 erroneous arrest. So the technology is demonstrated to be far from foolproof.
Last year Congress demanded that Amazon disclose how its Ring service stores data, while other lawmakers have called for a halt of rolling out facial recognition technology altogether, Activist Post reported.
Legislators also called for putting a “time out” on facial recognition technology until regulations are in place. Congress has held several oversight hearings on the topic and there are at least four previous bills in the works to limit the technology.
Boston city council unanimously voted recently to ban the use of biometric technology and prohibit any city official from obtaining facial surveillance software/cameras by asking for it through third parties as well. The legislation now moves to Mayor Marty Walsh for review and signing into law.
On top of Boston, other cities in the U.S. have outright banned the biometric technology like San Francisco, Somerville, Massachusetts, and Oakland, California, as Activist Post reported.
Over 40 organizations signing a letter calling for an independent watchdog to recommend a ban on government use of facial recognition technology.
In total, governments in at least 25 countries are employing vast programs for mobile data tracking, apps to record personal contact with others, CCTV networks equipped with facial recognition, permission schemes to go outside and drones to enforce social isolation regimes, according to The Guardian.
The rapid growth of this technology has triggered a much-needed debate to slow down the rollout. Activists, politicians, academics and even police forces all over the world are expressing serious concerns over the impact facial recognition could have on our society.
In 2019, the ACLU sued the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other federal agencies like the Department Of Homeland Security (DHS), making claims that the government is improperly withholding information on how it uses a facial recognition database on millions of Americans, Activist Post reported.
The FBI previously claimed to Congress that agents don’t need to demonstrate probable cause of criminal activity before using its face surveillance technology on us. That statement says volumes on why facial recognition technology should be outright banned. We don’t want to create a facial recognition database and live in a world worse than George Orwell’s 1984 or The Minority Report.
Fight For The Future, an activism organization against facial recognition technology, has previously launched a first-of-its-kind interactive map that tracks where in the U.S. facial recognition technology is being used and where it is being resisted, along with a tool-kit for local activists who want to help kickstart a ban in their city or state, as Activist Post reported.
Aaron Kesel writes for Activist Post.
Image: Full Measure
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