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Coalition Statement Highlights Major Civil Rights Concerns with Face Recognition

The Brennan Center for Justice joined more than 40 other civil society organizations to release a statement highlighting civil rights concerns regarding law enforcement use of face recognition technology.

Published: June 3, 2021

On June 3, 2021, the Bren­nan Center for Justice joined more than 40 other civil soci­ety organ­iz­a­tions to release a state­ment high­light­ing six major civil rights concerns regard­ing law enforce­ment use of face recog­ni­tion tech­no­logy.

The coali­tion urges poli­cy­makers to act now to protect the public from face recog­ni­tion tech­no­logy, adding that a ban or morator­ium on law enforce­ment use of face recog­ni­tion is the most effect­ive way at this stage to address all of these concerns. 

This state­ment comes ahead of the one-year anniversary of IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft’s pause on sales of face recog­ni­tion tech­no­logy to law enforce­ment in response to last summer’s protests and increased public atten­tion on poli­cing’s dispro­por­tion­ate harms against Black and Brown people. While a grow­ing number of states and local­it­ies have taken action to halt or rein in the use of face recog­ni­tion, espe­cially over the past year, Congress has been slow to act to address the harms of the tech­no­logy. 

Mean­while, across the coun­try, local, state, and federal law enforce­ment and immig­ra­tion agen­cies are already using face recog­ni­tion systems to identify, track, and target indi­vidu­als—in secret and without author­iz­a­tion, or any safe­guards. This tech­no­logy dramat­ic­ally expands law enforce­ment’s power and poses severe threats to every­one’s safety, well­being, and freedoms of expres­sion and asso­ci­ation—but espe­cially those of Black and Brown communit­ies, Muslim communit­ies, immig­rant communit­ies, Indi­gen­ous communit­ies, and other people margin­al­ized and targeted by poli­cing.

In its state­ment, the coali­tion outlines six civil rights concerns: 

  1. Regard­less of tech­nical accur­acy, law enforce­ment use of face recog­ni­tion systems could exacer­bate the harms of poli­cing in communit­ies that are already dispro­por­tion­ately targeted by the police. 
  2. Law enforce­ment use of face recog­ni­tion threatens indi­vidual and community privacy by allow­ing invas­ive and persist­ent track­ing and target­ing. 
  3. Law enforce­ment use of face recog­ni­tion can chill First Amend­ment-protec­ted activ­it­ies.
  4. Law enforce­ment use of face recog­ni­tion can easily viol­ate due process rights and other­wise infringe upon proced­ural justice.
  5. Face recog­ni­tion systems used by law enforce­ment often rely on images that have been obtained without consent.
  6. In addi­tion to racial bias in how law enforce­ment uses face recog­ni­tion, the tech­no­logy itself poses dispro­por­tion­ate risks of misid­en­ti­fic­a­tion for Black, Asian, and Indi­gen­ous people.

Rachel Levin­son-Wald­man, deputy director of the Bren­nan Center’s Liberty and National Secur­ity Program and an expert on surveil­lance tech­no­logy, said: “The unfettered use of face recog­ni­tion tech­no­logy by law enforce­ment poses urgent threats to demo­cracy; when anyone can be iden­ti­fied at any time, consti­tu­tional protec­tions for assembly and asso­ci­ation become paper thin. In the absence of robust restric­tions and effect­ive over­sight, a morator­ium is the most effect­ive way of ensur­ing that these power­ful tools are kept in check.”