For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Caitlin Seeley George, caitlin@fightforthefuture.org

First-of-its-Kind Letter Calls for Ban on Private and Corporate Use of Facial Recognition

Groups call facial recognition "too dangerous to exist," say it must be abolished.

WASHINGTON - More than 20 civil and human rights organizations are expanding the fight against facial recognition and calling for a ban not only on government and law enforcement use of the technology, but also private and corporate use.

The letter, which highlights recent abuses by corporations including Uber EatsAmazon, and Apple, states that this technology threatens to suppress workers’ rights to organize, makes frontline workers susceptible to harassment and exploitation, puts personal biometric data in danger, and exacerbates existing biases.

The letter says that “In a world where private companies are already collecting our data, analyzing it, and using it to manipulate us to make a profit, we can’t afford to naively believe that private entities can be trusted with our biometric information. A technology that is inherently unjust, that has the potential to exponentially expand and automate discrimination and human rights violations, and that contributes to an ever growing and inescapable surveillance state is too dangerous to exist.”

While the call to ban law enforcement and government use of facial recognition has grown, and lawmakers have banned this use in many cities (and introduced a federal bill), Portland, OR is the only city to ban private use of facial recognition thus far. The organizations point to the Portland legislation as a template for other lawmakers to address the concerns with private and corporate use of the technology, and call on “local, state, and federal elected officials, as well as corporate leaders, to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance by private entities.”

“There is zero reason to believe that corporations can use this technology responsibly, especially at a time when these companies are already collecting our data and using it to manipulate us for profit,” said Caitlin Seeley George (she/her), Director of Campaigns and Operations at Fight for the Future. “This technology is inherently discriminatory and dangerous, no amount of regulation can address that. In order to protect people in workplaces, stores, restaurants, hospitals, transit and beyond, we must ban it.”

“Opt-in consent based regulatory frameworks will not address these harms,” added Evan Greer (she/her), Deputy Director at Fight for the Future. “If employees have to agree to being under constant facial recognition surveillance in order to have a job, that's not meaningful consent. If a patient has to agree to have their biometric information collected in order to receive care at a hospital, that's not really consent. Even more innocuous uses, like getting your face scanned to buy a burrito come with significant risks. The vast majority of people have no idea what the dangers of this technology are, and putting the onus on them fails to recognize power imbalances.”

“Facial recognition technology poses serious threats to personal freedom. Letting this tool of authoritarian control spread throughout the private sector has serious implications for worker organizing rights and heightens the risk of catastrophic biometric data breaches,”  said Tracy Rosenberg, Advocacy Director at Oakland Privacy. “You can't replace your face, The troubled record of facial recognition technology in identifying darker skinned people and youth poses severe dangers for people too often criminalized. Facial recognition technology should be put back in the bottle. We don't need it and the dangers can't be regulated away.”

"Facial recognition being prone to racial bias is not its only problem. If it were 100% accurate, it would be horrifying. If you're tracked wherever you go, your movements are laid bare for any company or government to exploit. Facial recognition deployments strip away your whole right to be let alone, in the name of more efficient advertising and policing. It's not worth it," said Alex Marthews, National Chair of Restore The Fourth.

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“Corporate facial recognition fuels racist policing of Black, brown, and immigrant communities,” said Aly Panjwani, Policy & Advocacy Manager at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “Facial recognition is biased, broken, and dangerous to the livelihood of working-class people. This technology exists to monitor, exploit, and incarcerate and must be banned.”

“The companies that develop and sell facial recognition technology need to recognize and confront its inherent dangers – and they need to stop it now,” said Michael Connor, Executive Director of Open MIC, a nonprofit which has organized corporate shareholders to oppose the spread of facial recognition. Connor noted that a shareholder proposal at Amazon highlighting the human rights risks of the company’s facial recognition product won more than 40 percent of the independent shareholder vote at Amazon’s 2020 annual meeting, with yet another vote scheduled at this year’s upcoming 2021 annual meeting.  “Investors increasingly understand the dangers of facial recognition,” Connor said. “Managements and boards of directors should take note.”

“Facial recognition is one of the most dangerous forms of surveillance ever invented. We know that its use—both by private and government entities—puts Black and brown communities already targeted by state violence at an even higher risk of arrest and incarceration. And we know that it’s already being used to target & silence protesters, deport migrant families, and control and surveil workers by their employers at Amazon warehouses and beyond. It's clear to us that the dangers this technology poses can't be "reformed" or "regulated" and we cannot trust tech companies—who are making enormous profits off of this tech—with the surveillance tools they already have. We must ban corporate & private use of facial recognition and fight for a surveillance-free future for all of us," added Laura Barrios, Campaign Manager, MPower Change.

"Corporate use of facial recognition will serve as an end-run around bans on government use of the technology and is a profound danger to the public in its own right. Face surveillance is too powerful for any entity to use because it enables widespread and surreptitious tracking of individuals on the back of cheap and omnipresent devices, cameras. The harms of facial recognition, both when it errs and when it is accurate, fall predominantly upon people of color, low-income individuals, and migrants. The use of this technology threatens to turn everyone into a suspect. FRT also permits unprecedented surveillance of workers, both on the job and off the clock. The only responsible step is for corporations to stop using facial recognition,” said Jeramie Scott, Senior Counsel and Director of the Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“Let’s face it, the new gold standard for corporate power is private data, and owning your face is about as personal as it gets. Furthermore, corporations using facial recognition technology further exacerbates the criminalization of Black and Brown people,” said Matt Nelson, Executive Director of Presente.org, the nation’s largest Latinx digital organizing group. "Profiting from a surveillance state is an unethical, dangerous racket and has no place in a future democracy that works for all of us.”

The release of this letter comes after a handful of recent cases that highlight the growing problem of facial recognition being used by corporations: the hack of more than 150,000 Verkada security cameras that include facial recognition software and are used in offices, gyms, hospitals, jails, schools, police stations, and more; Disney’s announcement that it will be testing facial recognition at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, and the incidences with Uber Eats, Apple, and Amazon previously mentioned.

Organizations signed onto the letter include Action Center on Race and The Economy (ACRE), American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Cryptoharlem, Daily Kos, Data for Black Lives, Demand Progress, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Fight for the Future, Greenpeace USA, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, MediaJustice, MPower Change, Muslim Justice League, Oakland Privacy, Open MIC (Open Media & Information Companies Initiative), Presente.org, Privacy PDX, Public Citizen, RAICES, Restore the Fourth,  RootsAction.org, Secure Justice, S.T.O.P. (Surveillance Technology Oversight Project), and United We Dream.

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