Congressman Cleaver calls for federal facial recognition standards
04 December 2018 16:18 GMT

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II sent a letter on 29 November to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), encouraging NIST to endorse industry standards and ethical best practices for the independent testing of demographic-based biases in facial recognition technology.

NIST is a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In the letter to Dr. Walter Copan, NIST Director and U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, Congressman Cleaver wrote:

“Facial recognition is a powerful tool that is permeating American life, and yet, the propensity of the technology to misidentify individuals, particularly in regard to variances in skin-type and gender, is well-documented,” said Congressman Cleaver. “The potential for illegal discrimination and/or unfair practices resulting from such bias continues to concern lawmakers.”

Congressman Cleaver has been a prominent voice in growing calls for diversity and regulatory reform in the rapidly-expanding tech industry:

• In August 2018, Congressman Cleaver called on the Department of Justice to investigate law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technologies.

• In August 2018, following a year-long investigation into FinTech small business lending practices, Congressman Cleaver announced his findings and called for the implementations of industry-wide practices to prevent discriminatory lending.

• In May 2018, Congressman Cleaver sent a letter to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, inquiring about the company’s “Rekognition” technology.

• In May 2018, with the support of Congresswomen Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Robin Kelly (D-IL), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Congressman Cleaver wrote a letter to Amazon expressing frustration at the company’s refusal to institute a “Rooney Rule” that would improve the board’s racial diversity.

• In February 2018, Congressman Cleaver urged cryptocurrency companies to do more in efforts to prevent extremists from using cryptocurrency to fund campaigns of hate and violence.

• In November 2017, along with Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, Congressman Cleaver demanded the Internet Association—a trade association representing tech behemoths like Amazon, Facebook, and Google—address gender and racial biases among its members.

• In October 2017, in conjunction with Congresswomen Bonnie Watson Coleman, Congressman Cleaver penned a letter to Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, encouraging them to take immediate action to combat the racially divisive content on their platforms.

“As technology and the tech industry as a whole continue to evolve, it is imperative that standards are created to ensure that technology is being used responsibly and without the potential for discrimination. I look forward to the opportunity to work with NIST on formulating these recommended guidelines,” said Congressman Cleaver.