Democratic senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests

Democratic senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests
© Greg Nash

Three Democratic senators are raising concerns about government surveillance of anti-police brutality protests that have erupted across the nation following the death of George Floyd.

In a letter to departments of Justice and Homeland Security, the lawmakers pointed to reports that the agencies may be using facial recognition technology to identify individuals participating in the peaceful demonstrations.

In particular, they noted that some police departments have partnered with Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition company that has been under intense scrutiny since it was discovered to have amassed a database of more than 3 billion photos collected by scraping social media.


"The federal government’s use of technology to identify each individual at a demonstration en masse has a chilling effect on all of our protected First Amendment activities," Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerBush testifies before Congress about racist treatment Black birthing people face during childbirth, pregnancy Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Never underestimate Joe Biden MORE (D-N.J.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask On The Money: How demand is outstripping supply and hampering recovery | Montana pulls back jobless benefits | Yellen says higher rates may be necessary Senate Democrats announce B clean bus plan MORE (D-Ohio) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenPutting a price on privacy: Ending police data purchases Overnight Health Care: Biden sets goal of at least one shot to 70 percent of adults by July 4 | White House to shift how it distributes unallocated vaccines to states Pallone commits to using 'whatever vehicle I can' to pass Democrats' drug pricing bill MORE (D-Ore.) wrote to Attorney General William BarrBill BarrThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Judge's decision on Barr memo puts spotlight on secretive DOJ office Trump allies launching nonprofit focused on voter fraud MORE and Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfLawmakers slam DHS watchdog following report calling for 'multi-year transformation' Intel heads to resume worldwide threats hearing scrapped under Trump Sunday shows preview: Democrats eye passage of infrastructure bill; health experts warn of fourth coronavirus wave MORE.

"Identifying Americans who are peacefully demonstrating using existing facial recognition technology is particularly dangerous because this information would be of dubious accuracy and could be stolen or otherwise leaked," they continued.

The lawmakers are asking if the departments have collected any personally identifiable information of Americans involved in the demonstrations and, if so, to cite the authority to collect it and detail how it is being handled.

They are also demanding a list of any time either agency has used facial recognition during protests since the May 25th death of Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, as well as accompanying information about any instance.