Our Government Should Not Be Conducting Facial Surveillance
New proposals for regulating the use of face recognition technology are major victories for the legislative imagination, even if they don’t become law
Co-authored by Woodrow Hartzog
The debate over facial recognition technology has advanced to the point where one thing is clear: It must be regulated. Not only have civil rights groups like the ACLU made this case, but even companies like Microsoft and Amazon acknowledge that change is necessary.
The question, then, is what’s the best way to respond to the dangers that facial recognition poses? Problems concerning bias and disparate impacts on minority communities are far from resolved. Corporate proposals aren’t credible solutions given the risk involved. And the dangers to our basic constitutional liberties are so profound that it might not be possible to effectively protect them.
Thankfully, major change is happening in how lawmakers are willing to think about regulation. After a few blips from Illinois, Texas, and Washington imposing some rules on biometric surveillance amid a nearly complete absence of specific restrictions otherwise, in the past month three bills have been introduced at the state and city level that go beyond singling out facial recognition technology as exceptionally dangerous for governments to use. Instead, they aim to outright temporarily or permanently ban it.
Lawmakers and the rest of society have tough decisions to make.
This is a big deal, even if the bills never become law. They are evidence that widespread, unrelenting deployment of facial recognition technology is not an inevitability. They also demonstrate how collectively we can break the cultural and political trajectory of ever-increasing, ever-intrusive surveillance.
The first proposed ban on facial recognition technology was the Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, put forth by Aaron Peskin, a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, in January 2019. It was part of a more comprehensive set of rules to enhance government…