Now Is The Time: Tell Congress to Ban Federal Use of Face Recognition

By Matthew Guariglia

Cities and states across the country have banned government use of face surveillance technology, and many more are weighing proposals to do so. From Boston to San Francisco, elected officials and activists rightfully know that face surveillance gives police the power to track us wherever we go, turns us all into perpetual suspects, increases the likelihood of being falsely arrested, and chills people’s willingness to participate in First Amendment protected activities.

That’s why we’re asking you to contact your elected officials and tell them to co-sponsor and vote yes on the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2020.

Take action
TELL Congress: END federal use of face surveillance

Three companies—IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft—have recently ended or suspended sales of face recognition to police departments, acknowledging the harms that this technology causes. Police and other government use of this technology cannot be responsibly regulated. Face surveillance in the hands of the government is a fundamentally harmful technology. Congress, states, and cities should take this momentary reprieve, during which police will not be able to acquire new face surveillance technology from these companies, as an opportunity to ban government use of the technology once and for all.

Face surveillance disproportionately hurts vulnerable communities. Recently the New York Times published a long piece on the case of Robert Julian-Borchak Williams, who was arrested by Detroit police after face recognition technology wrongly identified him as a suspect in a theft case.  The ACLU filed a complaint on his behalf with the Detroit police. The problem isn’t just that studies have found face recognition highly inaccurate when it comes to matching the faces of people of color. The larger concern is that law enforcement will use this invasive and dangerous technology, as it unfortunately uses all such tools, to disparately surveil people of color.

This federal ban on face surveillance would apply to opaque and increasingly powerful agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Customs and Border Patrol. The bill would ensure that these agencies cannot use this invasive technology to track, identify, and misidentify millions of people.

Tell your senators and representatives they must co-sponsor and pass the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2020, introduced by Senators Markey and Markley and Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Pramila Jayapal, Rashda Talib, and Yvette Clarke. This bill would be a critical step to ensuring that mass surveillance systems don’t use your face to track, identify, or incriminate you. The bill would ban the use of face surveillance by the federal government, as well as withhold certain federal funding streams from local and state governments that use the technology.  That’s why we’re asking you to insist your elected officials co-sponsor and vote “Yes” on the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2020, S.4084 in the Senate.

Take action
TELL Congress: END federal use of face surveillance


Matthew Guariglia is a policy analyst working on issues of surveillance and privacy at the local, state, and federal level. He received a PhD in history at the University of Connecticut where his research focused on the intersection of race, immigration, U.S. imperialism, and policing in New York City. He is a frequent contributor to the Freedom of Information-centered outlet Muckrock and his bylines have also appeared in the Washington Post, Slate, and Motherboard. Matthew is a visiting scholar in the department of history at UC-Berkeley and serves as an editor of “Disciplining the City,” a series on the history of urban policing and incarceration at the Urban History Association’s blog The Metropole. (Photo by Zack Garlitos)

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