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Dozens of advocacy groups push for Congress to ban facial recognition technology

Dozens of advocacy groups push for Congress to ban facial recognition technology
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Nearly 40 civil rights, privacy and technology groups sent a letter to congressional leadership Thursday pushing for a federal moratorium on facial recognition technology.

The organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Algorithmic Justice League and the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology — called on Washington to pass legislation on the issue, suggesting the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act introduced last week.

The bill would prohibit the use of facial recognition by all federal groups, a ban that could only be lifted by an act of Congress. It would also withhold federal funding from law enforcement if they fail to ban the tech themselves.

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Facial recognition has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks as nationwide protests against police brutality launched by the death George Floyd continue.

Tech giants like Amazon, IBM and Microsoft have scaled back their sales of the software to law enforcement in response, but those self-imposed moratoria alone will not stop police from using facial recognition technology, opponents argue.

The letter sent to congressional leadership on Thursday points to the wrongful arrest of Robert Williams, a Black man from Detroit, as a clear case of the risks of the technology.

Williams was held for more than a day in January after his driver's license photo was matched to surveillance video of a shoplifter.

“As the Williams story shows, the harms of face recognition are real for communities across the country," Neema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, told The Hill. "While many details about law enforcement use of this technology wrongly remain secret, the information we do have is cause for alarm. This surveillance technology is disproportionately inaccurate, is targeted at already overpoliced communities, and is a threat to our privacy and civil liberties."

The letter points to studies that have found facial recognition to consistently misidentify people of color and women.

"But, even if the technology were accurate, it cannot be dissociated from the racist policies that are embedded in policing," the groups added.

The letter also calls on Congress to ensure any police reform bill that funds body or dash cams blocks them from being used in conjunction with facial recognition tech.