Tech trade groups rally against congressional calls to ban facial recognition technology

Tech trade groups rally against congressional calls to ban facial recognition technology
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A coalition of tech groups on Thursday sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to reject calls to ban facial recognition technology, arguing the sensitive software can help law enforcement "keep communities safe." 

The groups — led by tech-backed think tank, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation — wrote the industry "disagree[s] that a ban is the best option to move forward." 

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"We are writing to encourage you to consider many of the viable alternatives to bans so that law enforcement can use facial recognition technology safely, accurately, and effectively," the letter reads. "These alternatives may include expanding testing and performance standards, the development of best practices and guidance for law enforcement, and additional training for different uses of the technology."

Other signatories include the Computing Technology Industry Association, Consumer Technology Association and NetChoice as well as the National Police Foundation. 

For months, civil rights and liberties advocates have been urging Congress to take action against the unregulated proliferation of facial recognition technology, which is rapidly being deployed by private companies as well as law enforcement and other government agencies.

There is no federal law dictating when, how, where or why facial recognition technology — which scans faces for the purposes of identifying them — can be used.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have come out aggressively against the widespread deployment of the technology at a series of hearings this year, signaling they plan to draft legislation that would curb or even halt its implementation.

"It seems to me it’s time for a time out," House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing House Republicans on Judiciary strategize ahead of Wednesday's impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ohio) said during a hearing earlier this year. "[This technology] is virtually unregulated — but I think that frankly needs to change." 

House Oversight Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsAdam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings Tucker Carlson calls Trump 'full-blown BS artist' in segment defending him from media coverage Elijah Cummings's daughters back former aide over widow in race to fill seat MORE (D-Md.) told reporters earlier this month that Democrats and Republicans on the committee are continuing to work on facial recognition legislation. 

"Republicans, as you probably know, this is one of the few things we agree on," Cummings said. "I think we're working on a bill and [will] hopefully get it out before the end of September." 

The intensifying federal scrutiny comes amid a national debate over facial recognition technology, as a string of cities have elected to ban it altogether.

A growing number of critics argue the software can be used to disproportionately surveil minorities and dissenters as police officers use the software to track and identify people in public places across the U.S.  

The tech groups on Thursday said they're in support of legislation that could expand "testing and performance standards" or lay out "best practices and guidance for law enforcement, and additional training for different uses of the technology."

Several top companies, including Microsoft and Amazon, have offered their own frameworks for regulating facial recognition. On Wednesday, Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosWarren hits Bloomberg, Steyer: They have 'been allowed to buy their way' into 2020 race Saagar Enjeti: 'Consequences for corporate media are finally starting' Saagar Enjeti: Bloomberg exposes 'true danger' of 'corporate media' MORE told reporters its "public policy team is actually working on facial recognition regulations; it makes a lot of sense to regulate that."