Congress Reintroduces Ban on Facial Recognition Technology

Not only will the new legislation ban the use of facial recognition technology, it will also block funding for state or local governments that use biometric surveillance or facial recognition during the moratorium.

Rodney Bosch

A group of Democratic lawmakers in both chambers of Congress reintroduced legislation recently that would ban the use of facial recognition and other biometrics technology by the federal government.

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act was first introduced in 2020. It would prohibit the use of facial recognition technology by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress. It also prohibits the use of other biometrics, such as voice recognition, and would condition grants from the federal government to local entities, including police, on having a similar moratorium on the use of these tools.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sponsored the Senate version of the bill. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) sponsored the House version.

“We do not have to forgo privacy and justice for safety,” Markey said in a statement. “This legislation is about rooting out systemic racism and stopping invasive technologies from becoming irreversibly embedded 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.”

Jayapal added: “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 … 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.”

Security Industry Association Opposes Ban, Speaks Out

Not long after the news, the Security Industry Association (SIA) released a statement in “strong opposition” to the legislation. The statement cites:

The legislation would impose a blanket ban on most federal, state and local use of nearly all biometric and related image analytics technologies, which threatens the legitimate, documented benefits of facial recognition technologies used by law enforcement, including:

  • Identifying individuals who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6
  • Reuniting victims of human trafficking with their families and loved ones
  • Detecting use of fraudulent documentation by non-citizens at air ports of entry
  • Aiding counterterrorism investigations in critical situations
  • Exonerating innocent individuals accused of crimes

“Rather than impose sweeping moratoriums, SIA encourages Congress to propose balanced legislation that promulgates reasonable safeguards to ensure that facial recognition technology is used ethically, responsibly and under appropriate oversight and that the United States remains the global leader in driving innovation,” said SIA CEO Don Erickson.

Such approaches and recommendations have been reflected in the following areas supported by SIA:

  • The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act — applauded by SIA earlier this month following its passage in the Senate — which authorizes the National Science Foundation (NSF) to disburse funds for research and development initiatives on key technology areas, including biometrics
  • Increased funding to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Image Analysis Unit, which will expand NIST’s testing infrastructure and computing power necessary to enhance NIST’s Facial Recognition Vendor Test Program
  • Direct additional NSF funding to historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and other minority institutions to develop interdisciplinary research focused on facial recognition algorithmic development to provide students with firsthand knowledge about the challenges and opportunities presented by these advanced technologies, including issues surrounding performance differentials and bias mitigation

SIA publicly opposed the bill’s initial introduction last summer as well. Reintroducing the Act follows recent legislative action at the state and local level.

King County, Washington, on June 1, voted to ban the use of facial recognition, thereby becoming the first county in the United States to ban government use of the technology. Similar bans have been enacted in more than a dozen cities, including Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Jackson Miss., Boston, among others. Virginia and Vermont have also banned the technology.


This article originally appeared on our sister publication Security Sales & Integration‘s website.