Facial Recognition

Congress Weighs a Moratorium on Facial Recognition and Biometric Surveillance Technologies

And it's not a moment too soon.


Today, a group of congressional Democrats re-introduced the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2021. And it's not a moment too soon.

Earlier this month a coalition of more than 40 privacy advocacy organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Fight for the Future, and Restore the Fourth, issued a declaration calling for a ban or moratorium on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology. In its statement, the coalition observed that police use of facial recognition technologies is already becoming pervasive.

"Law enforcement agencies routinely use the technology to compare an image from bystanders' smartphones, CCTV cameras, or other sources with face image databases maintained by local, state, and federal agencies," noted the coalition. "Potentially more than 133 million Americans are included in these databases, with at least thirty-one states giving police access to driver's license images to run or request searches, and twenty-one states giving the FBI access to the same. Law enforcement use of these databases for investigations places millions of Americans in what has been called a 'perpetual line-up.'"

In addition, more than 1,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have used the facial recognition tool developed by the surveillance startup Clearview AI. That company created its massive faceprint database by illicitly scraping more than 3 billion photos from across the Internet, including employment sites, news sites, YouTube, and social media networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Using the service, police can upload a photo of an unidentified person to Clearview AI's database and retrieve publicly posted photos of that person along with the locations at which the photos were posted. Back in January 2020, the New York Post reported, "Rogue NYPD officers are using sketchy [Clearview AI] facial recognition software on their personal phones that the department's own facial recognition unit doesn't want to touch because of concerns about security and potential for abuse."

The privacy group coalition argued that ubiquitous police facial recognition surveillance would chill the exercise of First Amendment freedoms to protest, attend political events, or gather for religious ceremonies. "American history is fraught with efforts to monitor individuals based on dissent or religious beliefs, and face recognition could supercharge that surveillance," the coalition pointed out.

In addition, police often hide the fact that they used facial recognition software in investigating cases, thus preventing defendants from exercising their Sixth Amendment rights to challenge the accuracy of identifications made by police procedures and software algorithms. While noting that current versions of facial recognition technologies are much worse at accurately identifying black and brown people, the coalition stressed that "face recognition expands the scope and power of law enforcement, an institution that has a long and documented history of racial discrimination and racial violence that continues to this day."

"Facial recognition is the perfect tool for oppression," wrote Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University, and Evan Selinger, a philosopher at the Rochester Institute of Technology. It is, they persuasively argued, "the most uniquely dangerous surveillance mechanism ever invented."

"Facial recognition is like nuclear or biological weapons. It poses such a threat to the future of human society that any potential benefits are outweighed by the inevitable harms," asserted Caitlin Seeley George, director of campaigns and operations for the privacy group Fight for the Future, in a statement supporting the bill. "This inherently oppressive technology cannot be reformed or regulated. It should be abolished."

The bill introduced in Congress would prohibit real time biometric surveillance including facial recognition and remote surveillance using voice, gait, and other immutable personal characteristics by the federal government without explicit statutory authorization. In addition, Congress would withhold federal public safety grants from state and local governments that engage in biometric surveillance. The ban does not include identification based on fingerprints.
The real time prohibition on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology is particularly crucial for holding the line against a metastasizing surveillance state. Deploying such tech would essentially turn our faces into ID cards on permanent display to the police.
The federal biometric surveillance moratorium would last until Congress passes legislation that, among other things, sets standards for minimum accuracy rates, and accuracy rates by gender, skin color, and age, along with rigorous protections for due process, privacy, free speech, and association, and transparent rules for data retention, sharing, access, and audit trails. 

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  1. Don’t ban biometric surveillance, just give people surveillance choice.

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  2. Deploying such tech would essentially turn our faces into ID cards on permanent display to the police.

    Only in states where filthy republicans practically passed laws forcing them to ignore the mask mandates. Both sides!

    1. Mandating Hijabs for everyone would make this technology null and void, plus stop the spread of the coof, all in one law.

      Do I have to think of everything, people?

  3. definitely no expectation of privacy in my uncovered face.

    1. I agree.

      The whole thrust of this is a false one: that the more effective and specific law enforcement is, the worse. By the same logic, the world would be a better place if police had to wear blindfolds.

      1. If you have a system of immoral laws and the police are used to target dissidents – then yes, the world would be a better place if the Chinese police wore blindfolds. Or the North Korean police. Or the Russian police. Or the Cuban police.

        There are plenty of places in the world that would be better off if their police forces were less effective.

    2. No expectation of privacy in your uncovered face – and its illegal to wear a mask.

      1. Should not be illegal to wear a mask. If anything good comes out of the recent virus scare, it will be that wearing masks becomes commonplace and acceptable.

  4. I suspect what congress is actually studying is if there is a way to only spy on conservatives.

    1. my thoughts exactly. They’ll ban it for local law enforcement and make sure federal investigators can still use it to look for “domestic terrorists”

  5. Don’t think I trust the dems to write a law that actually does what it says, more likely just more dbl speak

  6. Who enforces this?

    Can I sue police for using this, without QI getting them off the hook?

    Will FOIA be able to get the records?

    When they use budgetary tricks to stay one step removed from direct usage, will anyone be held accountable?

    Will there be exceptions for the DEA, national security, human trafficking, hate crimes, and especially woke crimes?

    Do I already know the answers?

    1. not you. no. no. no. yes. yes.

  7. Ha yeah right it will ban it for scumbag treasonous democrats on the house intelligence (that’s a misnomer) committee, but not for you little people.

  8. While I am generally ok with preventing the government from using this, the genie is already out of the bottle. The government may not be allowed to call some api for a database, but I don’t see any regulatory system that would prevent them from posting a picture to Social Media saying “We would like information about this person”, which then private citizens could fulfill in the same manner.

    Besides, Omnipresent Facial Recognition married to Cancel Culture means that the Government isn’t needed any more. There once was a time that libertarians pointed out that we didn’t need a government with a monopoly on force, because Shunning is an effective alternative. And here we see that coming into play. The police might not arrest you for attending the wrong protest, but does that matter when the Twitter posse identifies you and gets you fired, your spouse fired, and your kids kicked out of school?

    1. Even just that little speedbump – having to ask people to send in tips – can make a massive difference.

      Its an inefficiency, its a pothole on the freeway. It slows them down.

      And it give citizens the opportunity to decide if they want to turn that person in or if they’ll let it go.

      Anything to prevent total automation of law enforcement is a good thing.

      1. Proven fact that there is always a Karen waiting to ‘help’ the police by turning in their neighbors.

  9. I see nothing wrong with police being able to find a person whose face is known when he/she appears in public — especially now when it’s legal and accepted to mask up, even in places where it isn’t required. (But if there are so many cameras it becomes possible to track a person’s movements using them, then a warrant ought to be required.)

    But the events of the last year have created a greater danger, and that is that some of the BLM/Antifa terrorist thugs, who got off scot free because the prosecutors in those cities are in Soros’ pocket, will continue to bully, rob, and prey upon the innocent, including businesses. Facial recognition tech in enough private hands will give business owners a chance to fight back when those thugs enter their businesses. I wouldn’t do business in any of those cities without it.

    So we need to beware, and oppose, any bill that might have the effect of banning the private ownership and use of this technology.

    1. I kind of agree. To be sure, this is all public information. What principle do we hang a ban like this on? What libertarian value prohibits someone from taking your picture and storing it? Or trolling through the web and hoovering up the images you published publicly on Facepage? And therefore, what is the libertarian rationale for saying that the police cannot use that technology to identify you?

      This isn’t the government compelling a third party to give them information about a private exchange. It isn’t the government accessing data that you were compelled to give in order to fly/drive/vote. It is the government accessing data that you personally have put out into the world.

      1) I tend to agree that there is no stopping this, unless you can find a libertarian reason why NO 3rd party can scrape images publicly posted.
      2) I further agree that the real problem here is our punitive society that is punishing the “wrong” kinds of protest, while turning a blind eye to the “right” kinds of rioting.

      1. “”It isn’t the government accessing data that you were compelled to give in order to fly/drive/vote. “”

        Real ID?

      2. The libertarian principle is ‘since there’s no getting rid of the punitive society we need to keep a tight reign on what it can do’.

        Its the same principle libertarians here use to justify border walls – we’re not getting rid of the welfare state (the preferred solution) so we’re gonna have to put up a wall.

        The second libertarian principle is that the government doesn’t have rights – it has privileges. It gets to do what we allow it to do and fuck them, we should not give them this privilege and do not have to if we do not want to.

        So, third parties can certainly scrape images – we can absolutely tell the government that they’re never allowed to use them.

      3. What libertarian value prohibits someone from taking your picture and storing it?

        Copyright. One can rightfully take a picture of anything publicly viewable and store it for personal use. But, there are copyright and privacy issues if one’s image is sold commercially or included in a database sold commercially. As others have pointed out, the government has privileges not rights. Those privileges should be strictly limited.

    2. Well, good-by dissidents then.

      We’ll have a nice Chinese style surveillance state if we allow the government to keep putting out cameras.

      A panopticon is the very definition of a boot stamping on a face, forever.

    3. Widespread surveillance and de-facto ‘facial recognition’ (by crowdsourcing people to snitch) is why the Jan 6 protesters have spent half a year in solitary confinement.

      1. Thankfully this bill will totes stop totalitarian political persecution

  10. Any other devices or technology you want to ban? Cameras? Guns? Computers and phones?


  11. So if the government does get effective facial recognition, that means I don’t need to carry around my driver’s license anymore, right? Or a concealed carry license? And I won’t need ID to get on a plane?


    Then screw ’em.

    1. So if the government does get effective facial recognition, that means I don’t need to carry around my driver’s license anymore, right? Or a concealed carry license? And I won’t need ID to get on a plane?

      Dammit you stopped just shy of solving the problem!

      With universal facial recognition, it will be dead simple to know who’s a resident, working and voting legally, and who isn’t.

  12. “”And it’s not a moment too soon.””

    More like a decade too late.

  13. Congress Weighs a Moratorium on Facial Recognition and Biometric Surveillance Technologies

    For police. Who’ll then just contract with a third party to get the data that party is collecting anyway.

    1. a lot of this shit could be solved with the removal of ‘third party doctrine’.

      If I can have a contractual obligation with a company to safeguard my information then its a lot harder for companies to make money selling it to police. Or even knuckle under from a simply subpoena.

  14. “And it’s not a moment too soon.”

    Bailey’s promotion of prohibition for these devices without ANY detail of how they inherently violate our rights is not much different than those who want to ban drugs or guns .

    Like gun control activists, all he does is point to how they are misused.

    The whole concept of banning substances is anti-libertarian without some proof of rights violation inherently involved.

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