New bicameral legislation was introduced aimed at stopping government use of facial recognition and other biometric technology.

Introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Representatives Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Ayanna Pressely, D-Mass., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Katherine Clark, D-Mass., the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act would make it unlawful for any Federal agency or official to use any biometric surveillance system or any information derived from those systems that may be operated by another entity.

Further, the bill would:

  • Condition Federal grant funding to state and local entities on those enacting their own moratoria on facial recognition and biometric technology use;
  • Prohibit use of Federal dollars for biometric surveillance systems;
  • Create a private right of action for individuals whose biometric data was used in violation of this bill and allow for enforcement by state Attorneys General; and
  • Allow states and local governments to enact their own legislation regarding facial recognition use and biometric technologies.

In a press release by Sen. Markey, racial bias was noted as a primary reason to enact the legislation citing that “a growing body of research points to systemic inaccuracy and bias issues in biometric technologies” that disproportionately pose risks to non-white people.

“At a time when Americans are demanding that we address systemic racism in law enforcement, the use of facial recognition technology is a step in the wrong direction. Studies show that this technology brings racial discrimination and bias,” Sen. Merkley said. “Between the risks of sliding into a surveillance state we can’t escape from and the dangers of perpetuating discrimination, this technology is not ready for prime time. The Federal government must ban facial recognition until we have confidence that it doesn’t exacerbate racism and violate the privacy of American citizens.”

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