Jul 9, 2019 - Technology

Group seeks ban on government use of facial recognition

An illustration of facial recognition software being used on a person of color

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Digital rights group Fight For the Future is calling on Congress to ban government use of facial recognition. The announcement, to be made Tuesday, comes in the wake of weekend reports that federal authorities used facial recognition on millions of driver's license photos.

Our thought bubble: An all-out ban is unlikely, but the position makes for a strong opening salvo in the looming fight over regulating facial-recognition tech.

Fight For the Future says facial recognition is unlike any other form of surveillance because of its ability to monitor an entire population.

What they're saying: “Imagine if we could go back in time and prevent governments around the world from ever building nuclear or biological weapons. That’s the moment in history we’re in right now with facial recognition,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future. “This surveillance technology poses such a profound threat to the future of human society and basic liberty that its dangers far outweigh any potential benefits. We don’t need to regulate it, we need to ban it entirely.” 

Others, including Microsoft and Amazon, have called on the federal government to regulate, but not necessarily ban, use of the technology.

The bottom line: The status quo — with few, if any, guard rails and little transparency or accountability — isn't protecting anyone. But activists say industry-backed legislation won't go far enough, and the question should really be whether we want the technology used at all.

Go deeper