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Democratic legislators suggest a nationwide ban on facial recognition

Four Democratic members of Congress introduced a bill Thursday to ban facial recognition and other forms of surveillance nationwide.

The 2020 law on face recognition and biometric technology would prohibit federal agencies from investing in facial, speech, or gait recognition technology unless Congress approves. The law would also limit the use of biometric surveillance by state and local governments and cut federal funding if they violated the law.

Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) as well as representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) sponsored the bill.

The proposed legislation does not come long after news that a Michigan man was arrested after being misidentified by facial recognition software. Facial recognition experts have warned that false alarms are alarmingly common and that algorithms can be inherently biased, with serious consequences for those affected.

In a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2019, 189 facial recognition algorithms were tested with millions of photos of people from different population groups. The researchers found that the algorithms for identifying people of African or Asian descent were significantly poorer and found that "the false positive rates are highest in West and East African and East Asian people and lowest in Eastern European people".

The racist tendency in facial recognition algorithms requires special consideration given the recent demands for police reform and racial justice in America.

In a statement, Senator Markey said: "Face recognition technology is not only a serious threat to our privacy, it is also physically endangering black Americans and other minorities in our country. As we work to reduce the systematic racism that pervades every part of our society, we cannot ignore the damage that these technologies cause. "

Concerns about face recognition have increased over the past year, especially about police use. Public pressure has grown so large that large companies have discontinued facial recognition programs. At the beginning of June, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna announced that the company would no longer develop facial recognition software. Amazon took a more cautious stance and said it would ban police authorities from using its detection software for a year.

Technology activists' first reaction to the bill was positive. In a statement on Digital Trends, Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, "Face monitoring is so dangerous to our security and rights that the government cannot use it at all." We look forward to working with the authors to adopt and strengthen this bill. "

Fight for the Future's deputy director, Evan Greer, repeated the feeling, saying in a statement: “Face recognition is the perfect technology for tyranny. It automates discriminatory policing and aggravates existing injustices in our deeply racist criminal justice system. This legislation effectively prohibits the use of facial recognition by law enforcement agencies in the United States. That's exactly what we need now. "

Updated June 25, 2020: Added more details. This is an evolving story. Check again for more updates.

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