Rights Groups Urge Biden to Stop Use of Facial Recognition Technology

February 17, 2021 Updated: February 17, 2021

The American Civil Liberties Union and more than 40 other groups this week urged President Joe Biden to take executive action to stop the use of facial recognition technology.

The use of the technology, which is built on computer programs that analyze images of human faces to identify them, is posing “profound and unprecedented threats to core civil rights and civil liberties,” the coalition told Biden in a letter.

Facial recognition technology is used, among other places, in policing, public housing, and schools.

Biden should impose a halt on the use of the technology “so long as bias pervades these systems and Congress has not acted to authorize the use of the technology in specific circumstances and with sufficient safeguards to protect our privacy interests and prevent harms caused by this dangerous, unregulated technology,” the groups said.

Law enforcement utilizing facial recognition systems have wrongly arrested a number of black men, the groups said. In addition, the technology threatens core freedoms because the government can use it to track everyone who goes to a place of worship or attends a political rally.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

U.S. President Joe Biden holds a face mask
resident Joe Biden holds a face mask as he participates in a town hall at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wis., on Feb. 16, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Cities including Boston, San Francisco, and Jackson, Mississippi, have passed bans on the government use of facial recognition systems, and several states including Vermont, California, and New York have halted some government use of the technology.

However, the FBI and other federal agencies aren’t limited in how, where, or when they use the technology as of yet, stoking concerns about civil rights.

“Facial recognition technology is a threat to civil rights and civil liberties when it works, and when it doesn’t. It disproportionately misidentifies people of color, women, trans people, and other marginalized groups, but its ability to track our movements across space and time would be dangerous even if it worked perfectly,” Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

“Multiple Black men have been arrested and incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit after facial recognition technology falsely identified them, and its use will continue to disproportionately harm marginalized communities, especially Black and Brown people. In keeping with President Biden’s commitment to racial equity, he must immediately take this important first step,” she added.

The groups that signed the letter include the American Library Association, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Washington, the Massachusetts Pirate Party, Restore The Fourth, and The Freedom to Read Foundation.

The liberties union additionally launched a petition calling on people to tell Biden to halt the use of facial recognition technologies.

“If President Biden wants to uphold his commitment to racial equity and civil liberties for all, then he must take immediate action on this issue in his first 100 days. That is why we are urging him to impose a federal moratorium on face recognition technology and prevent state and local governments from using federal funds to purchase it,” the petition states.

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