Merkley, Sanders introduce bill limiting corporate facial recognition

Merkley, Sanders introduce bill limiting corporate facial recognition
© Greg Nash

Sens. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump, Biden renew push for Latino support Sunday shows - Trump team defends coronavirus response Oregon senator says Trump's blame on 'forest management' for wildfires is 'just a big and devastating lie' MORE (D-Ore.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose The role (un)happiness plays in how people vote MORE (I-Vt.) introduced legislation Tuesday aimed at limiting the corporate use of facial recognition technology.

The National Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2020 would require private companies to receive written consent from consumers and employees before collecting biometric data such as eye scans or fingerprints.

In cases where consent was not obtained before collecting that personal data, consumers and state attorney generals would be able to sue.

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“We can’t let companies scoop up or profit from people’s faces and fingerprints without their consent,” Merkley said in a statement. “We have to fight against a ‘big brother’ surveillance state that eradicates our privacy and our control of our own information, be it a threat from the government or from private companies.”

"We cannot allow Orwellian facial recognition technology to continue to violate the privacy and civil liberties of the American people," Sanders added.

Facial recognition has come under renewed scrutiny in recent months amid nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism launched by the killing of George Floyd.

The technology has been criticized for replicating existing societal racist and sexist biases.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency within the Commerce Department, released an expansive study in December that found that the majority of facial recognition systems have “demographic differentials” that can worsen their accuracy based on a person’s age, gender or race. 

Tech giants like Amazon, IBM and Microsoft have scaled back their sales of the software to law enforcement in response.

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Lawmakers, including Merkley, have also proposed legislation that would place a moratorium on federal use of facial recognition.

Tuesday's legislation tackles its use in other arenas.

"Right now in most states in the US, it would be totally legal for a big box store to set up surveillance cameras, scan the faces of everyone entering the store and compare them to a public mugshot database," Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, said in a statement. "That would be enormously invasive, and exacerbate existing forms of discrimination."