The bill by four Democratic members of the House and Senate lays down a critical marker as a debate intensifies in Washington over creating a single, national standard to regulate facial recognition. It is the first bicameral piece of legislation to be introduced that zeros in on face recognition since the death of George Floyd and the outbreak of protests around the country against unjust policing.
The bill doesn’t merely target facial recognition, however. Under the broad proposal by Sens. Ed Markey and Jeff Merkley, and Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Ayanna Pressley, federal agencies would be prohibited from using or spending money on face recognition, voice recognition, or gait recognition, unless Congress passes a bill explicitly authorizing it in specific contexts.
It also seeks to restrict state and local governments from using those technologies by withholding federal grant money for criminal justice programs until those governments pass their own bans. States that want even tougher rules than the federal standard would still be permitted to pass them, and wouldn’t be overruled by Congress under the bill. And private citizens would be able to sue governments that violate the proposed law, according to bill text reviewed by CNN Business.
“For years, I have called on companies like Amazon to stop selling facial recognition technology that has not only been invasive, inaccurate and unregulated, but has also been unapologetically weaponized by law enforcement against Black people across this country for far too long,” said Jayapal in a statement.
“Facial recognition is a uniquely dangerous form of surveillance,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of the advocacy group Fight for the Future. “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.”
Advocacy groups backing the bill include the civil rights group Color of Change; Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization; Georgetown University Law Center’s Center on Privacy & Technology; and the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, among others.