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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.

10 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

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