Bernie Sanders wants the police to stop using facial recognition

Amid the growing pressure from privacy rights groups and with the stacking academic studies pointing out the risks associated with law enforcement using facial recognition technology, Bernie Sanders, a Democrat Senator moves to ban the police use of facial recognition.

The move of the Vermont senator and 2020 presidential candidate to “ban the use of facial recognition software for policing ” comes after the call of Fight for the Future, a privacy rights group which urges the federal ban on facial recognition technology used by law enforcement agencies. Sanders is the first presidentiable to respond to the call of the organization, which also echoes his criminal justice reform agenda.

“The rapid spread of facial recognition surveillance is one of the most urgent threats to our basic freedom and human rights today. Every single 2020 candidate should be calling for a ban on this invasive, biased and dangerous technology,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, in a statement.

The use of facial recognition has since drawn the ire of lawmakers from both the Democrats and Republicans with some even pushing for a halt in the development of such technology. However, their sentiments are more likely to be transformed into action as law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), has already started using the technology in their police operations.

Nonetheless, several U.S. cities did not back down from the assertion of law enforcement officials claiming that facial recognition helps them keep the “safety of Americans” and has initiated a ban on police use of facial recognition in their own cities.

San Francisco, the melting pot of technological advancement in the United States, led the effort earlier this year when the city voted to ban the police, as well as other government agencies in the city, from using facial recognition. Many other cities followed through San Francisco’s move including Oakland with others like Berkeley, California, and Cambridge, Massachusettes also considering a city ban on the technology.

Similarly, other lawmakers have since been vocal about their opposition to facial recognition citing its potential to be used for abuse and its ability to fuel racial bias. Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission to voice out their reservations regarding the technology.

Earlier this year, a bipartisan move, known as the Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Act of 2019, was introduced by US Senators Roy Blunt and Brian Schatz in a bid to protect ‘people’s facial recognition data and make it much harder for the data to be sold, now that information is treated as currency.

“Our faces are our identities. ‘They’re personal. So the responsibility is on companies to ask people for their permission before they track and analyze their face,” Senator Schatz, ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, said.

Not regulated and racially biased

The apprehension on the potentially dangerous impact of facial recognition technology comes from series of academic studies and reports revealing that facial recognition technology that is available in the market today are more likely to misidentify people of color, especially black women.

Another report reveals that many police departments are using facial recognition technology without control and boundaries. A study published by Clare Garvie from Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology reveals that the police and law enforcement agencies were feeding celebrity images, composite and digitally rendered sketches, and pixelated close-circuit images to their facial recognition system to solve crimes.

“The stakes are too high in criminal investigations to rely on unreliable—or wrong—inputs. It is one thing for a company to build a face recognition system designed to help individuals find their celebrity doppelgänger or painting lookalike for entertainment purposes. ‘It’s quite another to use these techniques to identify criminal suspects, who may be deprived of their liberty and ultimately prosecuted based on the match. Unfortunately, police ‘departments’ reliance on questionable probe photos appears all too common,” Garvie wrote in her study.

Fight For Future believes that there is merit in the fight against the potentially abusive and unregulated technology like facial recognition. Greer said in a statement that allowing the police to use the technology without any form of regulation is “reckless.”

Banning facial recognition is not a radical idea. It’s common sense. Allowing government agencies to build a face-scanning panopticon with no oversight or accountability is reckless and puts people in danger,” Greer said.

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