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Praising Sanders for His Call to Ban Law Enforcement Using Facial Recognition Tools, Digital Rights Group Urges All Presidential Hopefuls to Follow Suit

"Every single 2020 candidate should be calling for a ban on this invasive, biased, and dangerous technology."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to the media after the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami. (Photo: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

The digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future urged all 2020 presidential candidates Monday to follow the lead of Sen. Bernie Sanders in calling for a ban on law enforcement's use of facial recognition technology.

Fight for the Future—which launched a campaign last month demanding a national ban on government use of the technology—praised Sanders for including the issue in a comprehensive criminal justice reform plan the Independent senator from Vermont unveiled Sunday.

"The rapid spread of facial recognition surveillance is one of the most urgent threats to our basic freedom and human rights today," Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement. "Every single 2020 candidate should be calling for a ban on this invasive, biased, and dangerous technology."

The presidential hopeful's Justice and Safety for All plan aims to "ensure law enforcement accountability and robust oversight" in part by banning "the use of facial recognition software for policing," according to the Sanders campaign website.

"Police use of facial recognition software is the latest example of Orwellian technology that violates our privacy and civil liberties under the guise of public safety and it must stop," a spokesperson for the campaign told Recode. "Bernie is proud to join cities like San Francisco in banning the use of this technology for policing, and as president will enact a nationwide ban on facial recognition software for policing, including at the state and local levels."

Fight for the Future, in its statement Monday, noted that "while other candidates, including Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker have previously expressed concern about face scanning and biometric surveillance, so far none have incorporated a ban on the technology into their platform."

"Banning facial recognition is not a radical idea. It's common sense," said Greer. "Allowing government agencies to build a face scanning panopticon with no oversight or accountability is reckless and puts people in danger. There's growing bipartisan support to rein in biometric surveillance. Any 2020 candidate that wants to be taken seriously on tech and civil liberties issues needs to be calling for a ban."

Pointing to concerns over how facial recognition technology threatens safety, privacy rights, and public trust, civil liberties advocates have long pushed lawmakers at all levels of government to take on the issue. Critics of the technology—which has a record of gender and racial bias—also have pressured developers such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft to refuse to sell their software to law enforcement agencies in the United States and around the world.

Although the U.S. House Ovesight Committee held historic hearings earlier this year on the threats posed by facial recognition technology, there are currently no federal regulations for government agencies or other entities. Some cities—such as Oakland and Somerville, Massachusetts—have enacted local bans, but the technology is currently being used by law enforcement without nationwide rules.

Recode outlined Monday:

Many law enforcement agencies across the U.S. today use facial recognition technology to identify anyone deemed suspicious. Several government agencies—including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI—use facial recognition tech to help detain and arrest individuals. Police departments in at least two U.S. cities have publicly employed Amazon's version of the technology, called Rekognition. (One of those cities, Orlando, canceled the partnership amid public scrutiny and technical limitations.)

"Having a candidate come out now and specifically call for a ban is significant," Greer told Recode. "It sets the bar that this is a popular position for candidates to take on this issue rather than saying something more wishy-washy like 'we'll take a look at it.'"

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