Pressley, Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Ban Government Use of Facial Recognition, Other Biometric Technology

June 15, 2021
Press Release
Legislation stops federal entities’ use of facial recognition tools and effectively strips federal support for state and local law enforcement entities that use biometric technology

Bill Text (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and Yvette Clarke (NY-09), along with Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), reintroduced bicameral legislation to stop government use of biometric technology, including facial recognition tools. The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act responds to reports that hundreds of local, state, and federal entities, including law enforcement agencies, have used unregulated facial recognition technologies and research showing that that roughly half of U.S. adults are already in facial recognition databases. 

The legislation is informed by Rep. Pressley’s People’s Justice Guarantee, her bold resolution to transform the American criminal legal system to center the dignity and humanity of all people.

“Facial recognition technology is flawed and systemically biased, and has exacerbated the criminalization and over-surveillance that Black and brown communities face,” said Rep. Pressley. “By banning government use of this discriminatory technology, our bill would boldly affirm the civil liberties of every person in this country and protect their right to live free of unjust surveillance by government and law enforcement. I’m proud to join my colleagues in re-introducing this bill.”

As this technology continues to proliferate, experts have found that facial recognition tools are significantly less accurate when analyzing biometric data from vulnerable and marginalized populations. For example, an analysis of facial recognition tools by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that Black, Brown, and Asian individuals were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white male faces. Three Black men have already been wrongfully arrested based on a false facial recognition match, and earlier this month, more than 40 leading civil rights and privacy groups called for a moratorium on law enforcement entities’ use of this technology. 

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act would:

  • Place a prohibition on the use of facial recognition technology by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • Prohibit the use of federal dollars for biometric surveillance systems;
  • Prohibit the use of information collected via biometric technology in violation of the Act in any judicial proceedings;
  • 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
  • Allow states and localities to enact their own laws regarding the use of facial recognition and biometric technologies. 

“Facial recognition technology is not only invasive, inaccurate, and unregulated but it has also been unapologetically weaponized by law enforcement against Black people across this country. That's why I have long called on companies like Amazon to stop selling this technology, and it's why we need to immediately take additional steps to rein in its use," said Congresswoman Jayapal. "This legislation will not only protect civil liberties but aggressively fight back against racial injustice by stopping federal entities from using facial recognition and biometric surveillance tools while stripping support for state and local law enforcement departments that continue its use.”

“We cannot allow racist, faulty facial recognition technology to continue to be used in the surveillance and criminalization of Black and Brown communities,” said Congresswoman Tlaib. “In my district, two Black men, Michael Oliver and Robert Williams, were both wrongfully arrested after being misidentified by this broken technology that has subjected them to trauma no one should have to experience. This is why I have long called for a ban on the use of facial recognition technology and am proud to join my colleagues in the reintroduction of this legislation that will save countless people from racist experiences with our so-called justice system.”

“We do not have to forgo privacy and justice for safety” said Senator Markey. “This legislation is about rooting out systemic racism and stopping invasive technologies from becoming irreversibly imbedded in our society. We simply cannot ignore the technologies that perpetuate injustice, and that means that law enforcement should not be using facial recognition tools today. I urge my colleagues in Congress to join this effort and pass this important legislation.”

“The perils of face recognition technology are not hypothetical — study after study and real life have already shown us its dangers. The technology’s alarming rate of inaccuracy when used against people of color has led to the wrongful arrests of multiple Black men including Robert Williams, an ACLU client. Giving law enforcement ever more powerful surveillance technology empowers constant surveillance, harms racial equity and is not the answer,” Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said. “It’s past time to take action, and the Facial Recognition and Biometric Moratorium Act of 2021 is an important step to halt government use of face recognition technology.”

"Facial recognition exponentially amplifies the brutality and injustice of policing in the United States. This is a technology that is fundamentally incompatible with basic liberty and human rights. It's more like nuclear weapons than alcohol or cigarettes –– it can't be effectively regulated, it must be banned entirely. Silicon Valley lobbyists are already pushing for weak regulations in the hopes that they can continue selling this dangerous and racist technology to law enforcement. But experts and advocates won't be fooled,” said Evan Greer (she/her), Director of Fight for the Future. “Any lawmaker who fails to support this moratorium legislation, to at least put a pause on the spread of this technology while we have a conversation about its impact on our society, is actively supporting the erosion of our basic human and constitutional rights."

“Face surveillance technology is so harmful to our safety and privacy, and so discriminatory, that government must not use it at all,” said India McKinney, Director of Federal Affairs at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We thank the authors of this bill for their leadership in ending the federal government’s use of this dangerous and invasive technology.”

Endorsers of the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act include: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Color of Change, MediaJustice, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Free Press, Jewish Voice for Peace, MPower Change, the Athena Coalition, Project on Government Oversight, Georgetown University Law Center’s Center on Privacy & Technology, and New America’s Open Technology Institute, Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, Amnesty International USA, Restore The Fourth, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, LGBT Technology Partnership and Institute, Public Citizen, Center for Digital Democracy, Council on American-Islamic Relations, CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers, Defending Rights & Dissent, Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, Joy Buolamwini, Algorithmic Bias Researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Founder of The Algorithmic Justice League.

In July 2019, Rep. Pressley introduced bicameral legislation, along with Senator Markey, Reps. Clarke and Tlaib, 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.

# # #