Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Wash.), Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) today introduced legislation to stop government use of biometric technology, including facial recognition. The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, which is endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union, responds to the technology’s threats to civil rights and civil liberties.
Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU, said:
“The perils of face recognition technology are not hypothetical — study after study and real life have already shown us its dangers. The technology’s alarming rate of inaccuracy when used against people of color has led to the wrongful arrests of multiple Black men including Robert Williams, an ACLU client. Giving law enforcement even more powerful surveillance technology empowers constant surveillance, harms racial equity, and is not the answer, It’s past time to take action, and the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act is an important step to halt government use of face recognition technology.”
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said:
“We commend Senator Markey and Representative Pressley for their leadership on this issue. This legislation is a crucial step toward reining in facial recognition technology and protecting all people from invasive surveillance. In Massachusetts and nationwide, people should be able to seek medical treatment, attend religious services, and visit friends and family without worrying that government agencies are keeping tabs on their every movement.”
The ACLU is leading a nationwide movement to defend privacy rights and civil liberties against the threat of unregulated face recognition surveillance. As part of ACLU-led campaigns, multiple jurisdictions have prohibited police use of face recognition technology, including San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, California; Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Easthampton, Northampton, Springfield, and Somerville, Massachusetts; New Orleans, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; Portland, Maine; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; King County, Washington; and the states of Virginia and Vermont. New York state also suspended use of face recognition in schools and California suspended its use with police-worn body cameras.
In 2020, the Massachusetts legislature advanced historic regulations for police use of face recognition technology. Unfortunately, Governor Baker struck those provisions entirely with a misguided amendment. Ultimately, the governor signed much weaker language, which became Section 220 of Chapter 6 of the General Laws. Current law does not sufficiently protect racial justice, privacy, due process, or civil liberties. The ACLU backs a new proposal, introduced by Senator Cynthia Creem and Representatives Dave Rogers and Orlando Ramos, that would further protect millions of people from this intrusive, racially-biased technology. The new bill, modeled after the legislature’s approach last session, would prohibit government agencies from using face surveillance to track or monitor the general public in places like schools, libraries, parks, and municipal buildings; require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before conducting a face recognition search, except in emergency situations; and establish due process protections for people who are prosecuted after investigations using face recognition.