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.

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"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 Anthony BookerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA rule extends life of toxic coal ash ponds | Flint class action suit against Mich. officials can proceed, court rules | Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill Overnight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors MORE (D-N.J.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOvernight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw Chamber of Commerce, banking industry groups call on Senate to pass corporate diversity bill MORE (D-Ohio) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal On The Money: Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock | Meadows, Pelosi trade criticism on stalled stimulus talks | Coronavirus recession hits Social Security, Medicare, highway funding Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock MORE (D-Ore.) wrote to Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump prizes loyalty over competence — we are seeing the results Rep. Raúl Grijalva tests positive for COVID-19 'Unmasking' Steele dossier source: Was confidentiality ever part of the deal? MORE and Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfSenior DHS official reassigned after office compiled intel reports on journalists, protesters More than 130 federal agents will stay behind in Portland as 'quick reaction force' :report Trump's acting ICE chief to leave post 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.