Senators Pitch Temporary Facial Recognition Ban, Leave Door Wide Open For Abuse By Federal Agencies

from the take-another-pass-or-three-before-sending-this-out-for-a-vote-pls dept

Here's a promising development on the facial recognition front -- one that won't make facial recognition tech developers very happy. Bans have been popping up around the nation but this legislative pitch would (sort of) prevent the federal government from deploying the tech.

On Wednesday, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced legislation to place a moratorium on the use of facial recognition by the federal government or with federal funds—unless Congress passed regulations for the technology.

The Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act aims to create a 13 member congressional commission representing interested parties—including law enforcement, communities subjected to surveillance, and privacy experts.

It's a temporary ban but it's better than doing nothing about the federal government's enthusiasm for unproven tech. The DHS has been pushing for this tech to be deployed everywhere travelers might board conveyances or cross borders. Federal law enforcement agencies are just as interested in using this tech despite its horrible track record, amassing large collections of facial pictures and granting access to just about any local agency expressing an interest in rolling the dice on biased software. Then there's Clearview, which is its own monstrosity -- one that implicates far more variables than government access.

Unfortunately, there's a big exception carved out for law enforcement agencies, which would include DHS components assigned to borders and airports. The only thing keeping this bill from being completely useless is that the exception is tied to a warrant requirement, which means no more biometric scanning at international airports.

Or maybe it doesn't. The bill [PDF] doesn't specifically address the Constitutional no-man's land that are our border crossings and international airports. So, it may be possible for law enforcement agencies working in these areas to abide by the partial ban while still ignoring the warrant requirement because the normal rules just don't apply within 100 miles of any border crossing.

That's not to say it's a terrible bill. It just could have been a much better bill. It will prevent inland use of facial recognition tech without a warrant and, importantly, would force the federal government to develop and implement standards governing its use and (hopefully) set some baselines contractors would need to meet before selling their tech to government agencies.

At this point, the only thing Congress has done in response to the rapid deployment of facial recognition tech is express its concern and suggest some hearings might be in order. What it hasn't done is prevent the sketchy tech from being deployed as rapidly as government agencies can nail down contracts. Hitting the pause button for a few years is a far better idea than allowing things to continue to run towards the direction of amok, especially when it has been made clear most companies' offerings are biased and inaccurate.

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Filed Under: ban, cory booker, facial recognition, jeff merkley


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