Democrats in the House and Senate today introduced legislation banning federal law enforcement from using facial recognition technology.

“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,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., who introduced the bill along with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2020, comes on the heels of Boston imposing a similar ban on use of the technology by law enforcement in the city and a couple of weeks after Amazon placed a one-year moratorium on selling its Rekognition solution to law enforcement and IBM pulled out of the market altogether.

The Michigan Civil Liberties Union earlier this week filed a complaint against Detroit police for after they wrongfully arrested Robert Williams as a result of flawed face recognition technology.

“No one should have to fear the government tracking and identifying their face wherever they go. No one should have to go through what the Williams family has gone through,” ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani said in a statement. It’s past time Congress halted the use of face recognition and stopped federal money from being used to invest in invasive and discriminatory surveillance. This bill should immediately pass.”

In addition to nixing the technology’s use, the proposed legislation would put limitations on the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, a federal initiative that funds law enforcement and correction programs at the state and local levels.

According to a release from Markey’s office, the bill would:

  • Place a prohibition on the use of facial recognition technology by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress
  • Place a prohibition on the use of other biometric technologies, including voice recognition, gate recognition, and recognition of other immutable physical characteristics, by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress
  • Condition federal grant funding to state and local entities, including law enforcement, on those entities enacting their own moratoria on the use of facial recognition and biometric technology
  • Prohibit the use of federal dollars for biometric surveillance systems
  • Prohibit the use of information collected via biometric technology in violation of the Act in any judicial proceedings
  • Include a private right of action for individuals whose biometric data is used in violation of the act and allows for enforcement by state attorneys general
  • Allow states and localities to enact their own laws regarding the use of facial recognition and biometric technologies.

“This legislation effectively bans law enforcement use of facial recognition in the United States. That’s exactly what we need right now,” said Evan Greer, deputy director at Fight for the Future, the digital rights group behind the coalition BanFacialRecognition.com. “Facial recognition is a uniquely dangerous form of surveillance. This is not just some Orwellian technology of the future –– it’s being used by law enforcement agencies across the country right now, and doing harm to communities right now.”