Coalition of Civil Liberties Groups Campaign for Ban on Police Facial Recognition

Posted on September 7, 2019

A new piece by Truthout reports that over 30 civil liberties organizations have united to lobby governments at all levels to prohibit law enforcement use of facial recognition technology. The alliance, led by Fight for the Future, views facial recognition as such a singularly grave threat to individual privacy that the only way to prevent abuse is to ban its use by local, state, and federal law enforcement alike, citing nonproliferation policies for nuclear and biological weapons as models.

This call for a ban on the nascent, invasive technology comes as adoption of facial recognition tools by police departments around the country continues to explode. To date, dozens of state and local law enforcement agencies are already deploying facial recognition in some capacity, including the City of Chicago. By contrast, only Oakland, San Francisco, and Somerville, Massachusetts have outlawed police use of facial recognition.

Along with the overwhelming (and constantly growing) extent of existing law enforcement employment of these tools, calls to ban facial recognition are imperiled by an acceptance of its law enforcement application by a majority of Americans, as the Pew Research Center recently revealed.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to this civil liberties campaign is the fact that bans on facial recognition almost certainly would not extend to the private sector, leaving law enforcement with an avenue for obtaining such data by less direct means.

Apple and Microsoft both offer users facial biometric authentication features for unlocking their respective devices, with the former’s Face ID software constituting the only biometric authentication option for users of Apple’s newest generation of iPhones. As many users favor biometric alternatives to PIN codes for unlocking their devices, for reasons of both convenience and security, any move to ban facial recognition in the public and private sectors would likely meet with stiff resistance.

Nor are these the only products to incorporate facial recognition: Not only has Amazon unveiled its new Ring camera-equipped doorbell, but police in more than 400 jurisdictions are already seeking access to these devices from Amazon. In light of this recent trend, and prior reporting indicating that law enforcement regularly purchases customer data from telecom providers, it is well within the realm of possibility that law enforcement would simply purchase data from privately operated facial recognition tools were they barred from deploying it themselves.

The full story from Truthout can be found here.