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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.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Jul 31, 2020 - Technology

Chinese facial recognition developer nears $1.5 billion funding round

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

SenseTime, a Chinese developer of facial recognition technologies, is wrapping up a $1.5 billion funding round at a $10 billion valuation and is in talks to list on China’s STAR market, per Reuters.

Why it matters: This is the company’s first fundraise since being placed on a U.S. blacklist for alleged involvement in human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in China. It previously raised nearly $3 billion, including from U.S.-based firms like Fidelity, Glade Brook, Qualcomm Ventures, and Silver Lake Partners.

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and has "again diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

3 hours ago - World

Biden to warn Putin U.S. will add troops in Eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

Putin meets Biden in Geneva. Photo: Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty

President Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin when they speak on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. is prepared to increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank," a senior administration official told reporters.

Why it matters: The administration believes it's increasingly likely that Putin will order an invasion.

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