The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has recapped some of the key 2020 milestones in the battle against face-based surveillance. The organization called particular attention to a wave of facial recognition bans at the municipal level, with several major cities passing laws that prohibit the police use of the technology.
The full roster includes the Massachusetts cities of Boston and Cambridge, as well as Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine. The Portland, Oregon law goes one step further than the others, and bars both government use and the use of facial recognition in public-facing commercial establishments. New York City, meanwhile, passed a POST Act that forces the NYPD to be more transparent about its policies and the impact of any surveillance technologies it has deployed.
The EFF expects those trends to continue into 2021. Privacy advocates are still pushing for a facial recognition ban in New York City, while lawmakers in the Senate and the House of Representatives have tabled a Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act that would restrict its use at the federal level. That bill would affect agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, which have both displayed considerable enthusiasm for the technology in recent months.
In that regard, the EFF went on to highlight some of the primary motivations for the continued push against facial recognition. The organization noted that state surveillance could supress civic activity, and that facial recognition raises civil rights concerns due to the racial bias that is still present in many of the leading algorithms. For example, an erroneous facial recognition match led to the false arrest of a black man in Detroit in January.
Many leading facial recognition providers have announced that they will stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies. In the meantime, the EFF indicated that it will continue to support legislative efforts across the country, in the hopes that more cities and states will pass their own bans in the months ahead.
The EFF’s recap speaks to the tension between privacy advocates and the proponents of facial recognition, which remains controversial due to its use in surveillance applications. Be sure to fill out our FindBiometrics Year in Review survey to share your thoughts on the subject!
January 5, 2020 – by Eric Weiss