Jun 26, 2020 - Technology

Bill would ban police use of face recognition

illustration of a facial recognition system
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats in both houses of Congress said Thursday they are introducing a bill that would ban government use of facial recognition technology.

Why it matters: A handful of cities have banned government use in their jurisdictions, but there are no national laws governing how facial recognition can be used, and there's wide concern over how the tech today encodes racial and other kinds of biases.

Driving the news:

  • Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), along with Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said they will introduce legislation in both houses to stop government use of biometric technology, including facial recognition tools.
  • The announcement comes after a Michigan man, Robert Williams, was wrongfully arrested due to flawed facial recognition software.
  • Microsoft has said it will stop selling the technology to police until a national law is passed, while Amazon has put a one-year halt to such sales and IBM has exited the business.

What they're saying:

  • Robert Williams, in a Washington Post op-ed: "Why is law enforcement even allowed to use such technology when it obviously doesn't work? I get angry when I hear companies, politicians and police talk about how this technology isn't dangerous or flawed."
  • Markey: "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."

Between the lines: A strictly partisan bill from a quartet of lawmakers who are among the farthest left in their respective chambers is unlikely to gain wide traction anytime soon. But the call to fully ban facial recognition in the U.S. signals where the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is on the issue.

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