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Two US Senators Propose New Legislation, to Place a Temporary Ban on Federal Government Use of Facial Recognition.

Two US Senators Propose New Legislation, to Place a Temporary Ban on Federal Government Use of Facial Recognition.

Two democratic US senators introduced a bill last month to place a temporary ban on Federal Government use of facial recognition technology until Congress is able to pass legislation regulating it.

As facial recognition technology quickly develops, two Democratic United States senators; Cory Booker and Jeff Merkley are acknowledging the risks this technology could pose to privacy and safety and are calling for a temporary ban on its use by the federal government. While there have been several other legislation proposed on various aspects of the use of this technology, there are still no laws governing its use, as none of these bills have passed through Congress. The floor is divided in opinion on this powerful technology, however, lawmakers on both sides agree on some sort of freeze on this technology. Civil rights groups have also been very critical of the use of this technology, deeming it “unwarranted surveillance”.

This technology presents some significant challenges.

Facial recognition can be inaccurate or biased.

In December, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a comprehensive study which found that most facial recognition systems have what they call “demographic differentials”. This can reduce the accuracy of the technology based on a person’s age, gender or race. According to The Hill’s article, many other studies have also found that it tends to misidentify specifically women and people of color at a comparatively higher frequency than their antitheses.

“Facial recognition technology has been demonstrated to be often inaccurate – misidentifying and disproportionately targeting women and people of colour. To protect consumer privacy and safety Congress must work to set the rules of the road for responsible uses of this technology by the Federal Government.” Cory Booker said, in a recent statement.

The Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act.

The legislation proposed last month by democratic senators Jeff Merkley and Cory Booker, known as the Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act, would place a temporary ban on the use of facial recognition technology by the Federal Government, until regulatory legislation has been passed. In addition, this legislation would freeze state and federal government spending on this technology. It will also form a commission with the responsibility of providing recommendations to Congress regarding this technology for future Federal Government use. This commission would be expected to run for the first 18 months after the passage of this bill.

As stated in Aphaia’s blog two months ago, the EU is also considering to place a 3 to 5 year ban on facial recognition technology within public places.

What Are the Implications of this Legislation?

The Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act, while already introduced and getting bipartisan support, may be slow in implementation,as has been the case with similar bills in the past. Last year, a bill was introduced that would require companies to get people’s consent before using facial recognition technology in public spaces and before sharing any of their data with third parties. In more recent times, a bill was introduced requiring law enforcement to obtain court orders in order to use facial recognition software for extended surveillance. To date none of these legislative procedures have advanced through Congress.

In Section 2 of the proposed bill, it states;

“(4) There is evidence that facial recognition has been used at protests and rallies, which could chill speech. (5) It is critical that facial recognition not be used to suppress First Amendment related activities, violate privacy, or otherwise adversely impact individuals’ civil rights and civil liberties.”

If passed, this legislation would prevent the Federal Government from using this technology until such time as Congress passes legislation regulating its use, thereby minimising the risk posed to people’s privacy and rights.

Does your company utilize facial recognition software to conduct profiling or direct marketing? Aphaia’s AI ethics assessments will assist in ensuring that it falls within the scope of the EU’s and UK’s ethical framework. Aphaia also provides both GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018 consultancy services, including data protection impact assessments, and Data Protection Officer outsourcing. Contact us today.

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