Senators Propose Limits on Police Use of Facial Recognition 

Some privacy activists say the bill still falls short.


A bipartisan pair of lawmakers wants to limit the use of facial recognition technology by federal law enforcement. In November, Sens. Mike Lee (R–Utah) and Chris Coons (D–Del.) introduced the Facial Recognition Technology Warrant Act. The bill would require federal officials to seek a warrant in order to use facial recognition technology to track a specific person's public movements for more than 72 hours.

The legislation does not prohibit the use of facial recognition technology to identify people. Indeed, it allows authorities to use facial recognition to identify people without a warrant so long as "no subsequent attempt is made to track that individual's movement in real-time or through the use of historical records after the individual has been identified." In other words, the bill requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant only for long-term surveillance of a specific person.

Fred Humphries, corporate vice president of U.S. government affairs at Microsoft (which makes and sells facial recognition software), joined Coons and Lee in a joint statement in which the three claim that the bill strikes the right balance: "American citizens deserve protection from facial recognition abuse. This bill accomplishes that by requiring federal law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before conducting ongoing surveillance of a target."

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) also supports the legislation, which it sees as more balanced than a full ban on government use of facial recognition tools. "We're standing behind this bill," AFP senior policy analyst Billy Easley said in a statement, "because we believe in the appropriate application of facial recognition technology and ensuring it is used for good rather than the mistreatment of Americans."

Other privacy activists are less impressed. "It has gaping loopholes that authorize the use of facial recognition for all kinds of abusive purposes without proper judicial oversight," Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future, told CNET. "It's good to see that Congress wants to address this issue, but this bill falls utterly short." The Lee-Coons bill doesn't prohibit the feds from accessing or using the hundreds of millions of pictures they've already collected from drivers licenses and passports, for instance. In fact, it specifically approves the use of such photos.

While Congress is only just now moving to regulate facial recognition, states and cities have been grappling with the technology for at least the last year. In September, the American Civil Liberties Union helped spur a vote on legislation in California by running the official portraits of state legislators through Amazon's Rekognition program, which also contained 25,000 mugshots. As Wired reported, the program erroneously identified 25 lawmakers as arrestees.

The California Senate ended up passing a three-year moratorium on police use of facial recognition technology. Last May, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors went even further by voting to prohibit all city agencies from using any facial recognition technology.

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  1. “American citizens deserve protection from facial recognition abuse. This bill accomplishes that by requiring federal law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before conducting ongoing surveillance of a target.”

    Are there procedures for obtaining a warrant for ongoing surveillance of a target? Are the procedures clear enough to prevent a federal law enforcement agency from making 17 separate mistakes in obtaining and maintaining this warrant? Will there be sternly-worded letters and promises of refresher training courses for sloppy oversight of said warrant procedures?

    1. They only need a warrant for more than 72 hours of tracking somebody. I can think of two “loopholes” which I am sure will never be abused:

      Stop tracking them while they are sleeping at home. Next morning, start again.

      Or if the cops are looking through old videos, they need to sleep once in a while too. Track for 8 hours, take a break, come back next day, start again.

  2. As reported:
    As Wired reported, the program erroneously identified 25 lawmakers as arrestees.

    In fact:
    As Wired reported, the program erroneously identified ONLY 25 lawmakers as arrestees. (instead of ALL)

    1. Or: “the program erroneously identified 25 lawmakers as arrestees, instead of as ‘persons of interest’.”

    2. You sure it was a mistake?

  3. Of course, most uses of facial recognition are to immediately arrest someone, not follow them for days (after taking off a couple hours to get a rubber stamp judge to blindly sign a warrant).

  4. I recognize a facial every time I see one in a movie.

  5. “Amazon’s Rekognition”

    Is this a typo? This has to be a typo, right?

    1. Of course it’s a typo. It should be “Amazon’s Rekognition™”. All your faces are belong to us, and every time you take a selfie you’re violating US copyright law, fucko.

  6. This is all irrelevant due to the Clearview app that the NYT just wrote about. Law enforcement won’t have to get a warrant because once the app is available to the public any police officer can take your photo on their own phone, upload it to the app, find every photo of you and your information, and reverse engineer how they obtained it.

    Girl ghost you on dating app and you’re an insecure and obsessed person? Find her info from her photos. Pay her a visit!

    See family shopping for a car at a Tesla car lot? Send their info to your buddy and see if there is ample time for him to rob their house. (How will home owners insurance handle this one?)

    See hot person and want to see if anyone posted their lewds? Take their photo and upload it to the app.

    Find out if anyone is trans just by taking their photo. “Oh, look at that. Classmates dot com says Alicia used to be Albert. At least she got rid of that chin because that’s a bigger turn-off than the penis.”

    Since the app scrapes the internet of every public-facing video and photo and provides the link of its location you don’t get to choose if you’re on it. For these laws to be effective then facial recognition needs to be banned outright.

    Gov has banned tech before. Explosives, fully-auto weapons, and computer-generated child images are all tech. Banned. It would require some massive federal privacy law though.

  7. BTW: There is a HUGE difference between putting a traditional picture through a facial recognition scanner and taking a digital picture of the person specifically for facial recognition.

    When you go for your National ID picture at the DMV, wear makeup and a disguise (fake nose, beard, wig, colored contacts).

    I’m the weirdest looking AmerIndian with two different colored eyes, long blonde hair, and a red beard.

    1. Yeah, that sounds like a great way to breeze through TSA…

      1. I dont do the facial recognition camera bullshit that the airlines push when scanning your passport to exit the USA.

        So when I return to the USA, the CBP has nothing to compare it to. So it’s “anything to declare” and waived thru.

        For domestic flights, having makeup and a disguise on during TSA screenings doesnt show up so they have no idea. Then you remove the makeup and disguise before the flight, so youre comfortable.

        Besides, if you really want to avoid all that, drive to your destination in north America.

  8. So no AM Linx?

    OK, Trump comes down firmly on the side of cutting food waste, gives the lying POS’s wife a birthday gift:

    “Trump Targets Michelle Obama’s Signature School Nutrition Guidelines on Her Birthday”
    “President Donald Trump’s administration said Friday that it planned to roll back school breakfast and lunch nutrition guidelines that were championed by Michelle Obama.

    1. Yeah, I’m sure Trump is motivated by thriftiness and efficiency, rather than petty spite. And I’m sure you have a strong opinion on the respective cost/benefits of the two policies.

      ” If implemented, the proposed new rules “would create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, french fries and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day,” warned Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for Center for Science in the Public Interest. The move would likely increase the amount of potatoes in school meals, Schwartz warned. ”

      Have you seen American children lately? Disgustingly fat.

      1. Yes, and they’ve been getting steadily fatter ever since the government got involved in setting nutritional policies.

        Granted, lots of other things have changed in the same time. But there is no evidence to actually support the hypothesis that government nutritional advice does more good than harm.

        1. I’m not a fan of the FDA and their lobbyist-authored food pyramid, or whatever has come from them since. But, these rule changes make it easier for schools to spend my significant property tax dollars on making kids even fatter. No thanks. This was done out of petty spite. Trump is still mad that the Obama’s are more popular than him and his cretin family. Not a good basis for making policy.

      2. De Oppresso Liber
        January.20.2020 at 12:19 pm
        “Yeah, I’m sure Trump is motivated by thriftiness and efficiency, rather than petty spite. And I’m sure you have a strong opinion on the respective cost/benefits of the two policies.”
        And I’m sure you’re a fucking lefty ignoramus.
        “…” If implemented, the proposed new rules “would create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, french fries and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day,” warned Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for Center for Science in the Public Interest. The move would likely increase the amount of potatoes in school meals, Schwartz warned. ”…”
        Oh NOOO! Not potatoes!!! Why do you hate the Idaho?
        “…Have you seen American children lately? Disgustingly fat…”
        But maybe not disgustingly ignorant like most lefties.
        Fuck off and die. Please.

        1. It’s seriously funny how offended you get the second someone doesn’t wholly agree with you. Maybe politics isn’t your thing.

  9. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) said this week that only African-Americans should operate facial recognition software in Detroit because white people think black people all look the same.

    “Analysts need to be African-Americans, not people that are not, because let me tell you — no, it happens all the time, it’s true. I think non-African-Americans think all African-Americans look the same,” Tlaib told police Chief James Craig during a tour of the Detroit PD’s “Real Time Crime Center,” where they use facial recognition technology to locate suspects.

    “I’ve seen it even on the House floor,” Tlaib explained. “People calling Elijah Cummings ‘John Lewis’ and John Lewis ‘Elijah Cummings.’ They’re two completely different people. I’m just saying. I see it all the time.”

    “I trust people who are trained, regardless of race, regardless of gender,” Detroit police Chief James Craig said in response.


    1. “All you white guys look alike.” – Chinese colleague

    2. Logical extension: all Black (and White and Brown and beige and whatever) people should have their own independent legal systems, and eventually their own independent nations, right?

    3. Nevermind that facial recognition apparently can’t tell black people apart either…or at least not very well.

      1. It will improve and once it is in the hands of the people who will constantly be providing photos to train the algorithm middle-aged women will not only be able to call the police on suspicious-looking/acting negroes, but properly identify them to the police.

        That’s a downside, but thanks to CDA 230 when someone posts a leaked nude on some random corner of the web you can use the tech to identify the person, anonymously sign up to social media, and then extort her. Gotta love crypto. It’s the modern day briefcase of cash left in the park without having to put on clothes to go to the park.

  10. What is the penalty prescribed for misuse of the data? Min 5 yrs I hope.

  11. More laws won’t make a difference if they don’t enforce the laws we have. I find this as creepy as anything else privacy related I’ve heard about recently”

    Hospitals have granted Microsoft Corp., MSFT 0.56% International Business Machines IBM 0.24% Corp. and Inc. AMZN -0.70% the ability to access identifiable patient information under deals to crunch millions of health records, the latest examples of hospitals’ growing influence in the data economy.

    This breadth of access wasn’t always spelled out by hospitals and tech giants when the deals were struck.

    . . . . Rapid digitization of health records in recent years and privacy laws enabling companies to swap patient data have positioned hospitals as a primary arbiter of how such sensitive data is shared.

    “Hospitals are massive containers of patient data,” said Lisa Bari, a consultant and former lead for health information technology for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Innovation Center.

    CMS are the bureaucrats running our health system.

    I don’t know precisely what this reporter is referring to when he or she says that, “privacy laws enable companies to swap patient data”, but HIPAA was meant to protect us from precisely this. If they’re using it or some other “privacy laws” to enable the swapping of data, then the laws are a failure.

    Only in an ironic Orwellian sense would a law that enables Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft to get their grubby hands on our medical records be called a “privacy law”. If and when the government gets around to protecting us from facial recognition technology, assume the legislation will do the opposite of protecting us.

  12. Surveillance technology is a red herring. It exists, it will get more effective, and it will be everywhere. Trying to regulate it, especially how government uses it, is foolish.

    All the people with their panties twisted would be better served in addressing the ever-widening range of laws and regulations that criminalize more behavior. Of course most of the big government proponents are too stupid to understand what they are wishing for, and how it will eventually skewer them.

    1. I would say the first step to regulating it is to regulate how government uses it and then go from there. Once it is in the hands of the people the government can use it because they are people.

      I would think the way to go about this would be through data collection. CA is doing it, but it’s not effective because companies are collecting their data without them knowing it so they only way they can opt out is to know about it. Common sense would be to make data collection of anyone illegal unless they explicitly opt-in. If you don’t use a computer service and a computer service is using you then you need to use a computer service to even learn if they’re using you. Broad data service then becomes a way to force people to use your service in order to opt-out.

      Facial recognition in the hands of the people could prove to be interesting. If your highschool posted your senior picture then facial recognition based off of the internet can identify you. One could identify and extort prostitutes as well as identify undercover cops. If we allow that to be the case then all sting operations will become useless and the ways cops will have to operate will erode our rights even more. If cops can’t use it then they can just ask their buddy to and give the cops an anonymous tip.

      Your hands-off approach seems to be more catastrophic in the long term.

  13. They live very sheltered lives.

    They hear stories of people mugged in the streets by street thugs.

    They hear stories of children gunned down in the street by gangs.

    As Marco Rubio pointed out, gun control has been advertised as a method of keeping handguns out of the possession of the gangbanger or the street thug doing these muggings and shootings. They are afraid that the street thugs and gangbangers might rob or kill their kids, so they want to get the assault rifles off the street. They want to reduce the proliferation of guns in society.

    They want warrantless searches of public housing projects where much of the crime and gun violence comes from.

    They want the police to just stop and frisk street thugs and gangbangers on a hunch.

    But like almost all people, they do not understand the perspective of others who do not share their lived experiences.

    They do not understand the perspective of the young black man who has to work nights in high-crime, inner city neighborhoods to support his family.

    They do not understand why he needs to carry an unregistered handgun for protection because the police refuse to protect him.

    They do not understand that the reason he can not get a permit nor register his handgun is because, despite meeting all statutory criteria for a handgun permit, the police do not believe having to work late nights in crime-ridden, inner-city neighborhoods to be “good cause” to issue a permit.

    They do not understand his fear, on top of being accosted by a street thug or getting caught in a shootout by gangbangers, of being caught with an unregistered handgun by the police, of being treated just like the street thugs and gangbangers he wants to protect himself and his family from, of being incarcerated for possession, of being separated from his family, and suffering from the disabilities felons experience after release from custody.

    I try to understand both of their perspectives.

    Perhaps we should all do this.

  14. Using facial recognition is just a common sense, sensible tool to protect us from violence by street thugs and gangbangers.

    How can anyone oppose common sense?

    1. Those who do not agree with the rules need to be educated about the rules.
      In re-education camps.
      It’s only common sense.

  15. Pass the FART bill!

  16. Making it harder to identify criminals, or harder to aprehend fugitives, does not make sense.

    Making it harder for criminals (including authorities) to inflict pain on well behaved citizens does make sense.

    Unfortunately, the author of this piece did not see fit to provide an analysis which would answer my question.

    1. Ya know, national ID cards would also help with your ‘question’, but there are those of us who value our freedoms.

  17. The proposed legislation in CA and elsewhere is based on a misconception of how LE can use facial recognition. A match does not mean the target can be arrested. Looking like someone does not mean you are someone. Fingerprint matching by computer has been around for 25 plus years. Although the matches are generally correct, someone has to personally verify the match by hand before it can be used… period. For years victims have been given mug books or shown digital booking photos sorted by sex, age range, height, weigh etc. They have to ID the suspect and LE needs to verify it because unless the victim knows the suspect, photo ID is not accurate enough. Still need something else to connect the suspect to the crime.

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