Senators draft law on face recognition for consumers
13 February 2020 18:00 GMT

Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) have introduced legislation to protect the privacy of consumers from rapidly advancing facial recognition technology and data collection practices that heighten the risk of over-surveillance and over-policing, especially in communities that are already disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.

In a press release, the senators wrote that amid growing concerns of inappropriate use of facial recognition technology, the Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act would safeguard Americans’ right to privacy by instituting a moratorium on all federal governmental use of the technology until Congress passes legislation outlining specific uses for the data.

“Technology is evolving and advancing every day, and often these advancements bring improvements to our quality of life, our economy, and even our public safety,” said Merkley. “But Congress has an important responsibility to make sure that the government does not abuse emerging technology in ways that violate Americans’ right to privacy or that disproportionately and wrongfully single out Americans of color. Facial recognition technology is both a powerful and a problematic new frontier. Before this unregulated market becomes too big to tame, Congress needs to put a moratorium on federal use of facial recognition while we develop responsible and ethical guidelines for its use going forward.”

“Facial recognition is a powerful and rapidly evolving technology, but without proper oversight it poses a serious risk to privacy and safety,” said Booker. “Facial recognition technology has been demonstrated to be often inaccurate--misidentifying and disproportionately targeting women and people of color. To protect consumer privacy and safety, Congress must work to set the rules of the road for responsible uses of this technology by the federal government.”

In addition to halting federal use of facial recognition technology, this legislation would prohibit the use of federal funds to be used by state or local governments for investing in or purchasing the technology. The Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act would create a commission to consider and create recommendations, to be delivered to Congress within 18 months, to ensure that any future federal use of facial recognition technology is limited to responsible uses that promote public safety and protect Americans’ privacy.  The bill includes limited exceptions for law enforcement use of facial recognition pursuant to warrants issued by a court.