Activists demand federal ban on 'biased' facial recognition technology

A digital rights organization is calling for a complete federal ban on facial recognition technology.

Fight for the Future, a nonprofit based in Massachusetts, on Tuesday launched BanFacialRecognition to educate the public about the dangers posed by surveillance technology and prompt them to contact lawmakers in support of a nationwide ban. Facial recognition technology, which is used by Amazon and other tech companies, has provoked a bipartisan backlash over the potential for bias, government overreach and privacy violations.

"The tech industry is disingenuously calling for regulation of facial recognition because they want to keep raking in profits by selling it to governments who want to use it for authoritarian surveillance. Some technology simply shouldn't exist in the government's hands," Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, told Fox News.

According to a recent report in The Washington Post, federal authorities with ICE and the FBI have had access to millions of Americans' driver's license photos without their consent or congressional approval by tapping into state databases, which critics say has created an "unprecedented surveillance infrastructure."

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Fight for the Future is calling for a total ban on facial recognition technology at the federal level.

Fight for the Future is calling for a total ban on facial recognition technology at the federal level. (Fight for the Future)

During a House Oversight Committee hearing in May, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tied facial recognition technology to a global rise in authoritarian regimes. “I don’t want to see an authoritarian surveillance state, whether it’s run by a government or whether it’s run by five corporations,” the freshman New York lawmaker said in reference to the largest U.S. technology giants.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, was reportedly incredulous during that same hearing that no elected official had given permission for 18 state DMVs to share their driver's license databases with law enforcement agencies. "That is scary," he said. "It doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum you're on. This should concern us all."

In Hong Kong, protesters fear that mainland China's vast surveillance network – which uses advanced facial recognition technology to keep track of dissidents and activists, and has been particularly focused on Muslim Uighurs – will eventually spread to the semiautonomous territory.

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"Ubiquitous face scanning surveillance poses such a profound threat to the future of human society and basic liberty that the potential harms far outweigh any potential benefits. We don't need industry-backed regulation of facial recognition, we need to ban it entirely," Greer, who said the organization will be focused on this issue in the coming months, told Fox News via email.

The digital rights group's site frames the issue in dire terms: "Like nuclear or biological weapons, facial recognition poses a threat to human society and basic liberty that far outweighs any potential benefits."

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San Francisco in May became the first major U.S. city to outlaw police use of facial recognition technology. Somerville, Mass., has banned the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces.