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Beyer Introduces Legislation To Block Law Enforcement From Using Facial Recognition Technology With Body Cam Footage

Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) today introduced the Stop Biometric Surveillance by Law Enforcement Act, legislation that would prohibit federal law enforcement agencies from using facial recognition technology and other biometric surveillance tools on footage from body cameras. The bill would also prevent state and local law enforcement agencies from purchasing body cameras with those capabilities using federal funds.

Beyer said:

“Unless Congress steps in to regulate them, once-futuristic technologies like facial recognition software and biometric surveillance could corrupt the purpose of police-worn body cameras from transparency and accountability into roving surveillance. We must not allow tools which are designed to protect Americans’ civil rights to be used to systematically violate them.

“As even their manufacturers admit, facial recognition software and other biometric surveillance tools are not yet accurate enough for deployment in law enforcement settings.  Without oversight, this ‘Minority Report’ technology will be ripe for abuse.

“At present we do not know how many police departments are deploying these systems or where they are being used. We do not know, for instance, the extent to which they were deployed recently to target peaceful protesters exercising their constitutionally-protected right to peaceful protest across the country. Those who use this technology face no public scrutiny or accountability, and it is hard to determine the extent to which it enables or increases racial profiling.

“Without a strong legal regulatory framework, facial recognition technology and biometric surveillance could lead to a slippery slope of unprecedented mass government surveillance in this country. That must not happen.”

The Stop Biometric Surveillance by Law Enforcement Act was endorsed by the Project on Government Oversight.

‘‘The Stop Biometric Surveillance by Law Enforcement Act takes the critical step of preventing facial recognition from being used in body cameras. Body cameras are meant to enhance trust and accountability, and ensuring they do not contain facial recognition—a dangerous surveillance technology prone to misidentification and susceptible to abuse—fosters that goal," said Jake Laperruque, Senior Counsel for the Constitution Project at POGO.

Facial recognition technology (FRT) uses software that captures a frame from a live video feed, often taken from a body-worn camera, which focuses on the face and uses the distance between the eyes as a baseline. An algorithm then analyzes unique textures and patterns on the face and cross references the frame against a police mug shot database, which has also been processed by the software.  Similar software is deployed with biometric data, which is a physiological, biological, or behavioral characteristic that can be used, singly or in combination with each other or with other information, to establish individual identity.

The use of facial recognition technology and other biometric surveillance is becoming increasingly widespread by law enforcement. At present there is no regulation of this technology at the federal level.

A 2019 National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) report found that algorithms used in FRT misidentified more people of color than white people and misidentified women more than men. It went on to note that high error rates attributed to algorithmic bias.

Some states and localities, including California, have limited or banned the use of facial recognition or other biometric data surveillance tools in police-worn body cameras. Axon, the largest manufacturer of body cameras, decided not to commercialize the use of FRT because it is “not currently reliable enough to ethically justify its use on body-worn cameras.”

But other private companies including Clearview AI are rapidly developing biometric data surveillance systems and selling it to law enforcement agencies across the country.

Text of the Stop Biometric Surveillance by Law Enforcement Act is available here.