US privacy advocates believe that there is growing momentum for facial recognition legislation at the federal level. They note that several bills have already been put forward, and are optimistic that some of them could become law sooner rather than later. Most notably, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has already cleared the House of Representatives, and Joe Biden had indicated that he wanted to sign the bill before the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death on May 25, though it remains before the Senate.
That particular bill would bar the use of facial recognition in police body cameras. However, it is not the only piece of legislation currently being considered. The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act would ban the technology at the federal level, and withhold funding from state organizations that do not implement similar bans. The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act, meanwhile, would prevent government agencies from doing business with technology providers like Clearview AI that violate another company’s terms of service. Clearview received cease and desist letters from tech giants like Google and Twitter for scraping images from the platform without any form of consent.
Regulation could also come in the form of an executive order form President Biden, or if agencies like the Department of Homeland Security implement internal policies that prohibit the use of the technology. There have already been similar moratoriums in the private sector, with IBM, Microsoft, and (most recently) Amazon all voluntarily deciding to halt all sales of facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies.
Privacy advocates have praised those moratoriums, but are hoping that they will eventually lead to more comprehensive regulations. They note that there are other facial recognition providers willing to sell to the government, and that law enforcement agencies can still do business with companies like Clearview AI to gain access to facial recognition tech.
In that regard, advocates cited the public outcry about George Floyd’s murder as a major factor driving the current wave of legislation. They also cited concerns about racial bias and false arrests, noting that the technology is not as accurate when applied to people of color. Taken together, such stories have made technology bans more palatable to the general public.
“I do think there is going to be federal legislation introduced that is going to govern all algorithmic systems, including facial recognition. I think that that’s a political reality,” said AI for the People CEO Mutale Nkonde. “Moratoriums seemed to be what was possible prior to George Floyd being killed. After that, people are just more radical.”
May 28, 2021 – by Eric Weiss