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March 7, 2023

Pressley, Jayapal, Markey, Merkley Lead Colleagues on Bill to Ban Government Use of Facial Recognition and Other Biometric Technology

Bill Text (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), alongside Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-12) and Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), reintroduced the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, legislation to prevent the government from using facial recognition and other biometric technologies, which pose significant privacy and civil liberties issues and disproportionately harm marginalized communities.

The legislation responds to reports that hundreds of local, state and federal agencies, including law enforcement, have expanded their use of facial recognition technologies while multiple Black men have been wrongfully arrested based on a false facial recognition match, including a recent case in Maryland. Research shows nearly half of U.S. adults’ faces exist in facial recognition databases and that the faces of Black, Brown, and Asian individuals are up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white male faces.

“Facial recognition technology is fundamentally flawed, systemically biased, and disproportionately targets Black and brown communities that are already over-surveilled and overpoliced,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “By passing this bill, we can prevent government agencies from using this faulty technology and affirm the right of every person in this country to live freely of unjust and discriminatory surveillance by government and law enforcement. I am proud to reintroduce this bill alongside my colleagues and make clear that our government has no business spying on its civilians.”

“Facial recognition technology is not only invasive, inaccurate, and unregulated but it has also been weaponized by law enforcement against Black and Brown people across this country. That’s why I have long called on government to halt the deployment of facial recognition technology, and it’s why we need to immediately take additional steps to evaluate its effectiveness,” said Representative Jayapal. “This legislation will not only preserve civil liberties but aggressively fight back against injustice by stopping federal entities from irresponsibly using facial recognition and biometric surveillance tools.”

“Facial recognition is a racist technology that is being used in our neighborhoods to invade privacy, surveil, and criminalize,” said Representative Tlaib. “In the City of Detroit, facial recognition has already falsely identified our residents, making them suspects in crimes they did not commit. This technology is making us less safe. I am fighting for a ban on the use of facial recognition technology and am proud to co-lead this important legislation to put in place a moratorium on its use.”

“The year is 2023, but we are living through 1984. The continued proliferation of surveillance tools like facial recognition technologies in our society is deeply disturbing,” said Senator Markey. “Biometric data collection poses serious risks of privacy invasion and discrimination, and Americans know they should not have to forgo personal privacy for safety. As we work to make our country more equitable, we cannot ignore the technologies that stand in the way of progress and perpetuate injustice.”

“Law enforcement and government’s use of facial recognition technology has resulted in reports of discriminatory outcomes that have ripped innocent people away from their lives, locking them up in jail,” said Senator Merkley. “Between the risks of sliding into a surveillance state and the dangers of perpetuating discrimination, this technology creates more problems than solutions. Every American who values their right to privacy, stands against discrimination, and believes people are innocent until proven guilty should be concerned. Enacting a federal moratorium on this technology is critical to ensure our communities are protected from inappropriate surveillance.” 

“The government’s ability to collect our biometric information and combine it with surveillance technologies that can identify us, track us in public, and even determine who we associate with presents an existential threat to privacy in America. Senator Ed Markey understands Congress should not be using federal funds to underwrite the use of technologies that threaten our most sacred civil rights and civil liberties, and that is why he is introducing the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act. The ACLU applauds Senator Markey’s leadership on this issue and thanks all the members of Congress who join him in safeguarding our freedoms against the prying eyes of unchecked government surveillance,” said Chad Marlow, Senior Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Facial recognition poses a significant threat to our democracy and privacy. It should not be used by the federal government before a thorough evaluation is done about whether it should be used at all, and strict regulations are put in place to protect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties. The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act takes the right step of putting a pause on government use of dangerous biometric technologies. EPIC is proud to support it,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, Deputy Director at Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“Facial recognition has continued to harm vulnerable communities and erode our privacy, making this legislation more important than ever. There have been more cases of misidentification leading to wrongful arrest of Black men and more surveillance of people exercising their right to protest; databases of peoples’ most sensitive information have been breached, exposing irreplaceable data to bad actors; and more government agencies, from the IRS to the TSA, have adopted facial recognition to track our every move. We cannot afford to wait any longer to put this invasive technology in check, and any lawmaker who claims to care about privacy and justice must prove it by supporting this legislation,” said Caitlin Seeley George, Campaigns and Managing Director at Fight for the Future. 

“Cities and counties across the country have banned government use of face surveillance technology, and many more are weighing proposals to do so. It’s past time for the federal government to catch up to what cities and states already know. Face surveillance in the hands of the government is a fundamentally harmful technology, even under strict regulations or if the technology was 100% accurate. We thank the authors of this bill for their leadership in ending the federal government’s use of this dangerous and invasive technology,” said India McKinney, Director of Federal Affairs at Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act would:

  1. Place a prohibition on the use of facial recognition technology by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress;
  2. Place a prohibition on the use of other biometric technologies, including voice recognition, gate recognition, and recognition of other immutable physical characteristics, by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress;
  3. Condition federal grant funding to state and local entities, including law enforcement, on those entities enacting their own moratoria on the use of facial recognition and biometric technology;
  4. Prohibit the use of federal dollars for biometric surveillance systems;
  5. Prohibit the use of information collected via biometric technology in violation of the Act in any judicial proceedings;
  6. Provide a private right of action for individuals whose biometric data is used in violation of the Act and allow for enforcement by state Attorneys General; and
  7. Allow states and localities to enact their own laws regarding the use of facial recognition and biometric technologies. 

A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act is endorsed by Athena Coalition, Defending Rights & Dissent, Demos, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Liberation in a Generation, Media Alliance, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Oakland Privacy, Restore The Fourth,, Secure Justice, and The Awood Center.

Rep. Pressley first introduced the bicameral legislation, along with Senator Markey, Reps. Clarke and Tlaib, in July 2019 to ban the use of facial recognition technology in public housing. In Congress, she represents the cities of Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge, which are among the first cities on the east coast to outlaw the use of the technology. The legislation was reintroduced in June 2020.