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Digital rights group Fight for the Future wants to ban facial recognition

A digital rights group wants to completely ban the government from using facial recognition surveillance software.

Fight for the Future’s new campaign, announced Tuesday, includes the website, which asks visitors to contact lawmakers about the issue. The website states, “Facial recognition surveillance technology is unreliable, biased, and a threat to basic rights and safety.” 

The website points to reports that have shown that 98% of the time, facial recognition programs identify the wrong person. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study also found that facial analysis software is more likely to misidentify people of color, more specifically women of color.

Evan Greer, the Deputy Director of Fight for the Future told Digital Trends that errors like these have dire consequences. 

“A facial recognition error could land an innocent person in prison,” she said. 

Greer said the group is calling for a complete ban rather than a regulation of facial recognition surveillance because of the fundamental issues with facial recognition. 

“The industry would like to avoid this debate entirely by focusing on regulation and cautious implementation — we need to be discussing whether technology this dangerous has any role in a free and open society,” she said. 

The group’s call to action against facial recognition comes on the heels of a new report by the Washington Post that the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are using facial recognition on Americans’ state drivers license photos without their consent. The report states that the FBI has logged more than 390,000 facial-recognition searches since 2011, using federal and local databases, as well as state DMV databases. 

Politicians have also voiced their opinions on the issue since the report came out. Both Democrats and Republicans — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) — agree that facial recognition use poses a threat to civil liberties. 

Cities like San Francisco and Sommerville, Mass. have already banned the use of facial recognition from police and public agencies. 

Facial recognition software is nothing new, but as the technology becomes more advanced, its use has become more widespread outside of just unlocking our smartphones. 

Greer said that Fight for the Future is only focusing on law enforcement and government use of facial recognition surveillance, but that other uses could also prove to have problems. 

“We think that private uses should be scrutinized as well, especially since that biometric data can often be accessed by law enforcement,” she said. 

Digital Trends reached out to ICE and the FBI, and ICE has provided the following statement:

“Due to law-enforcement sensitivities, ICE will not comment on investigative techniques, tactics, or tools. During the course of an investigation, ICE has the ability to collaborate with external local, federal, and international agencies to obtain information that may assist in case completion and prosecution efforts. This is an established procedure that is consistent with other law-enforcement agencies.”

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