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Digital Rights Group Says Facial Recognition Surveillance 'Simply Should Not Exist'

Fight for the Future warns the dangers of facial recognition technology merit a federal ban.

by Edward Ongweso Jr
Jul 9 2019, 2:47pm

Image: DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

Fight for the Future, a digital rights group, is calling for a federal ban on government use of facial recognition surveillance.

BanFacialRecognition.com is the digital rights group’s latest online call to action, featuring an online form that quickly connects people to their local, state, and federal lawmakers. The website makes the case that Silicon Valley lobbyists are "trying to avoid the real debate: whether technology this dangerous should even exist."

Fight for the Future says facial recognition is different from other forms of surveillance because it "enables automated and ubiquitous monitoring of an entire population, and is nearly impossible to avoid,” and it identifies the wrong person as much as 98 percent of the time, according to a study of the UK Metropolitan Police’s use of facial recognition technology.

Due to its high rate of failure, the real world consequences of those errors (for example wrongful imprisonment or deportation), and the danger of abuses by federal agencies, Future Fight is calling for a complete ban. As the Washington Post reported earlier this week, ICE and the FBI have already used facial recognition technology on millions of Americans' drivers license photos without their consent.

Momentum against facial recognition has been growing in the past few months. In June, the American Civil Liberties Union and "over 60 privacy, civil liberties, civil rights, and investor and faith groups" sent a letter to the House Oversight and Reform Committee calling for a federal moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement and immigrantion authorities. The ACLU has been one of the earliest critics of facial recognition technology since it administered a 2018 test that Amazon's facial recognition program Rekognition failed by falsely matching 28 current members of Congress with images in an arrest photo database and disproportionately misidentifying Congressional members of color.

"In the end we feel strongly that this is technology that simply should not exist in the hands of law enforcement and government agencies. The potential harms to human society and basic liberty far outweigh any potential benefits," Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, said in an email.

In a press release announcing its new campaign, Fight for the Future also pointed out that momentum against facial recognition is growing. In the past few weeks, San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts became the first cities in the country to ban facial recognition. Axon, a manufacturer of tasers and body cameras for police officers, said that it could not "ethically justify" commercializing facial recognition. Greer said that a complete federal ban would go even further and "impact the types of partnerships that have been bubbling up, like Amazon collaborating with local police departments to market facial recognition surveillance as part of their Ring doorbells."