The Progressive


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For Immediate Release
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Corporate Use of Facial Recognition Should Be Banned. But This Bill Will Help Slow It Down and That's a Good Thing.


Today Senator Jeff Merkley introduced new legislation that prevents private corporations from collecting biometric data or using facial recognition on customers without their knowledge and explicit consent. The introduction comes just days after an explosive report from Reuters showed that Rite-Aid convenience stores had quietly used facial recognition surveillance, specifically targeting the technology at stores in low income neighborhoods. The new Federal legislation is similar to Illinois' Biometric Identity Privacy Act, which has prompted an ACLU lawsuit against Clearview AI. Facebook was recently forced to settle a major lawsuit based on their violation of the same law.

Fight for the Future, the digital rights group behind, a coalition of dozens of organizations calling for an outright ban on facial recognition surveillance, issued the following statement, which can be attributed to Deputy Director Evan Greer (pronouns: she/her):

"The rapid spread of commercial facial recognition poses just as much of a threat to basic human liberty and fairness as government and law enforcement use. We believe most private and corporate uses of facial recognition should be banned entirely, but this new legislation will play an important role in slowing down the unfettered creep of this technology into our daily lives, giving us time to have a meaningful debate about whether artificial intelligence powered surveillance systems should be used at all all in a free and open society.

Right now in most states in the US, it would be totally legal for a big box store to set up surveillance cameras, scan the faces of everyone entering the store and compare them to a public mugshot database. That would be enormously invasive, and exacerbate existing forms of discrimination. If this legislation passes, that sort of creepy corporate surveillance would be impossible, because the store would have to obtain the affirmative consent of every customer before scanning their face.

From targeting people with creepy and discriminatory advertisements based on their face to harvesting and selling our sensitive biometric data, there are so many ways corporations can abuse our rights with facial recognition. Unless we organize to stop it, the surveillance dystopia of our nightmares may be offered up by corporations in the name of convenience, rather than imposed by an authoritarian government."

Fight for the Future has already had significant success curtailing the spread of corporate facial recognition. The group worked with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and other artists to lead a successful campaign to keep facial recognition technology out of US music festivals and live concerts. More than 40 of the worlds' largest festivals including Coachella, Bonnaroo, and SXSW confirmed they won't use the tech at their events. The group then worked with Students for a Sensible Drug Policy to get more than 60 prominent colleges and universities to confirm they won't use facial recognition on campus. 150+ university faculty issued an open letter echoing student demands to ban the use of face surveillance on college campuses. Students across the country held a national day of action in March.

Since last year, Fight for the Future has been leading a national campaign backed by dozens of other grassroots organizations calling for an outright ban on law enforcement and government use of facial recognition. In February, the group expanded its efforts to explicitly call for lawmakers to also ban private individuals, institutions, and corporations from using this technology in public places, for surveillance purposes, or without the subjects' knowledge and affirmative consent, such as unlocking a phone. Even seemingly innocuous uses of facial recognition, like speeding up lines or using your face as a form of payment, normalize the act of handing over sensitive biometric information and pose a serious threat to security and civil liberties. The group is also providing support for activists on the ground pushing for bans at the local level. Boston just became the largest city on the east coast to ban government use of facial recognition. Detroit City Council is expected to vote soon on whether to renew their police department's contract with a facial recognition vendor.

Fight for the Future is a group of artists, engineers, activists, and technologists who have been behind the largest online protests in human history, channeling Internet outrage into political power to win public interest victories previously thought to be impossible. We fight for a future where technology liberates -- not oppresses -- us.

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