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'We Need to Ban It Entirely': Beyond Regulation, New US Campaign Calls for Moratorium on Facial Recognition Surveillance

"Imagine if we could go back in time and prevent governments around the world from ever building nuclear or biological weapons. That's the moment in history we're in right now with facial recognition."

The digital rights group Fight for the Future launched a national campaign on Tuesday to demand a ban on facial recognition technology. (Photo: Fight for the Future)

Pushing back against businesses and government calling for mere "regulations" on facial recognition surveillance, digital rights group Fight for the Future on Tuesday launched a nationwide campaign to demand a complete ban on the technology, which which critics warn is already violating civil liberties across the country.

Facial recognition technology exacerbates racial discrimination by police departments, violates privacy rights, and makes the personal data of millions of people vulnerable to security breaches, the non-profit group said.

"Facial recognition is unlike any other form of surveillance," Fight for the Future wrote on the website it set up to launch the campaign, BanFacialRecognition.com. "It enables automated and ubiquitous monitoring of an entire population, and it is nearly impossible to avoid. If we don't stop it from spreading, it will be used not to keep us safe, but to control and oppress us—just as it is already being used in authoritarian states."

The United Nations has expressed concerns about the use of facial recognition technology in Argentina and China, warning that the countries are not doing enough to ensure that people's right to privacy is not being violated. With the expansion of facial recognition technology, Fight for the Future deputy director Evan Greer said Tuesday, the U.S. is increasingly vulnerable to the same violations.

"Imagine if we could go back in time and prevent governments around the world from ever building nuclear or biological weapons. That's the moment in history we're in right now with facial recognition," said Greer. "This surveillance technology poses such a profound threat to the future of human society and basic liberty that its dangers far outweigh any potential benefits."

Companies including Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have called on lawmakers to regulate the technology, but Fight for the Future warns that those demands are an "industry trap."

"We don't need to regulate it, we need to ban it entirely," Greer said.

The campaign's launch comes days after the Washington Post reported that the FBI and ICE have used facial recognition technology to mine state drivers' license databases, accessing the data of millions of people without warrants or Congressional approval.

The use of the technology by federal, state, and local agencies makes discrimination, police harassment, and false arrests or deportations more likely, Fight for the Future said, as facial recognition programs misidentify suspects up to 98 percent of the time—with women and people of color especially prone to being misidentified.

In addition to invading privacy and putting people in danger of being apprehended for crimes they didn't commit, the technology leaves the data of millions of people vulnerable to potential security breaches.

"Once our biometric information is collected and stored in government databases, it’s an easy target for identity thieves or state-sponsored hackers," wrote Fight for the Future.

"This has already happened," the group added, citing the story of hackers who were able to access the photos and license plates of an untold number of travelers after Customs and Border Protection (CBP) collected the data.

CBP is currently seeking to expand the use of facial recognition technology in major airports, a possibility Fight for the Future warned against.

The group called on supporters to sign a petition demanding that lawmakers fight for a total ban on the government's use of facial recognition technology, following the example of San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts, which have outlawed its use.

"We're joining this outcry to call for a complete ban on facial recognition," Fight for the Future wrote. "It's time the federal government take a stand now to prevent this technology from proliferating across the country."

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