Lawmakers Float New Restrictions On Facial Recognition

As controversies about the use of facial recognition continue to swirl, lawmakers across the country are preparing to tackle the technology.

California state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), said Thursday she plans to introduce a bill to prevent law enforcement and other governmental agencies from using facial recognition technology for the next five years.

Jackson's measure would also permanently prohibit the state Department of Motor Vehicles and other agencies from sharing photos for use in any “biometric surveillance system,” without residents' consent.

Senate Democrats Cory Booker (N.J.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) also proposed a bill this week that would temporarily block the federal government from using facial recognition until Congress passes new legislation to regulate the technology. That bill has some exceptions, including one that would allow the police to use the technology after obtaining a warrant.

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News of the potential measures comes several weeks after The New York Times published a report detailing how the company Clearview AI created and sold a facial recognition database to police departments by scraping photos from Facebook.

Since the report came out, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told state prosecutors to temporarily stop using the technology company's program, and tech companies -- including Google, Twitter and Facebook -- have demanded that Clearview stop scraping their sites.

Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai also recently called for a temporary block on the use of facial recognition technology until government officials weigh in with new rules.

Even before news about Clearview emerged, the technology sparked debate. Some proponents say the technology can help solve crimes, but civil rights advocates argue that the use of facial-recognition software will lead to pervasive government surveillance.

“The threat that facial recognition poses to human society and basic liberty far outweighs any potential benefits,” Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, wrote in a recent column for BuzzFeed. “It’s on a very short list of technologies -- like nuclear and biological weapons -- that are simply too dangerous to exist, and that we would have chosen not to develop had we had the foresight.”

Four cities -- San Francisco and Oakland, California, and Brookline and Somerville, Massachusetts -- have prohibited the police from using facial recognition software. Portland, Oregon is currently considering a similar prohibition.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont) said in August he supports a ban on the use of the technology by the police.

In March, Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) proposed legislation to require private companies to notify people about the use of facial recognition technology, and impose testing requirements aimed at addressing inaccuracies in the technology.

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