March 07, 2023

Merkley, Wyden, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Ban Government use of Facial Recognition and other Biometric Technology

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden joined colleagues in introducing the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act. This legislation would prevent the government from using facial recognition and other biometric technologies which pose significant privacy and civil liberties issues and disproportionately harm marginalized communities.  

“Law enforcement and government’s use of facial recognition technology has resulted in reports of discriminatory outcomes that have ripped innocent people away from their lives, locking them up in jail,” said Senator Merkley. “Between the risks of sliding into a surveillance state and the dangers of perpetuating discrimination, this technology creates more problems than solutions. Every American who values their right to privacy, stands against discrimination, and believes people are innocent until proven guilty should be concerned. Enacting a federal moratorium on this technology is critical to ensure our communities are protected from inappropriate surveillance.”?? 

“Smart policies give Americans both privacy and security. But facial recognition systems run a proven risk of costing Americans their fundamental rights, without making us safer,” Wyden said. “This legislation would help to balance the scales of justice by preventing an overzealous government from overreaching with a technology that’s proven to land hardest on people of color.”

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act?responds?to reports that hundreds of local, state and federal agencies, including law enforcement, have expanded their use of facial recognition technologies while multiple Black men have been?wrongfully arrested?based on a false facial recognition match, including a?recent case?in Maryland.?Research?shows nearly half of U.S. adults’ faces exist in facial recognition databases and that the faces of Black and Asian individuals are up to?100 times more likely?to be misidentified than white male faces. 

The?Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act?would: 

  • Place a prohibition on the use of facial recognition technology by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress; 
  • Place a prohibition on the use of other biometric technologies, including voice recognition, gate recognition, and recognition of other immutable physical characteristics, by federal entities,?which?can only be lifted with an act of Congress; 
  • Condition federal grant funding to state and local entities, including law enforcement,?on those entities?enacting their own?moratoria on the use of facial recognition and biometric technology; 
  • Prohibit the use of federal dollars for biometric surveillance systems; 
  • Prohibit the use of information collected via biometric technology in violation of the Act in any judicial proceedings; 
  • Provide a private right of action for individuals whose biometric data is used in violation of the?Act?and allow for enforcement by state Attorneys General; and 
  • Allow states and localities to enact their own laws?regarding?the use of facial recognition and biometric technologies.? 

Merkley has strived to put a spotlight on the dangers of biometric facial recognition technology. Most recently he led colleagues in a letter to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) calling for an immediate halt of TSA’s facial recognition technology and practices at U.S. Airports

Merkley and Wyden have both previously supported this critical piece of legislation. 

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2023 is led by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Merkley, and is cosponsored by Senators Wyden, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma), and Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07).

?Bill text can be found here.