Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced a bill that would require Federal law enforcement to obtain a court-ordered warrant before using facial recognition to surveil the public on Nov. 14.

“Right now, there is a lack of uniformity when it comes to how, when, and where the federal government deploys facial recognition technology,” Coons said in a press release. “This bipartisan bill strikes the right balance by making sure law enforcement has the tools necessary to keep us safe while also protecting fundamental Fourth Amendment privacy rights,” he added.

If signed into law, The Facial Recognition Technology Warrant Act of 2019 would:

  • Require a warrant based on probable cause showing criminal activity to use facial recognition to monitor an individual for more than 72 hours;
  • Cap a warrant’s ongoing use of facial recognition at 30 days;
  • Allow use of facial recognition without a court order in “exigent circumstances;”
  • Require the judge issuing or denying the court order to report on the outcome of the warrant application;
  • And require Federal law enforcement agencies to work with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a way to test facial recognition systems for accuracy and bias.

“Facial recognition technology can be a powerful tool for law enforcement officials, but it’s very power also makes it ripe for abuse. That is why American citizens deserve protection from facial recognition abuse.,” Lee said.

The legislation received praise from Microsoft. “The bill provides clarity for law enforcement to be transparent about its use of facial recognition technology, both for human review when facial recognition is in use and testing for accuracy,” said Corporate Vice President of U.S. Government Affairs Fred Humphries.

The Senate bill does not appear to have a companion measure in the House.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.