Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced the Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act on Feb. 12 which would institute a moratorium on all Federal use of facial recognition technology until Congress passes legislation outlining “specific uses for the data” collected.

“Facial recognition technology is both a powerful and a problematic new frontier,” said Merkley. “Before this unregulated market becomes too big to tame, Congress needs to put a moratorium on Federal use of facial recognition while we develop responsible and ethical guidelines for its use going forward.”

The legislation is intended to “protect the privacy of consumers from rapidly advancing facial recognition technology and data collection practices.” The bill specifically targets practices that “heighten the risk of over-surveillance and over-policing, especially in communities that are already disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.”

On top of halting Federal use of facial recognition, the legislation would also prohibit state and local governments from using Federal funding to invest in or purchase facial recognition technology. Additionally, the bill would also create a commission “to consider and create recommendations, to be delivered to Congress within 18 months, to ensure that any future Federal use of facial recognition technology is limited to responsible uses that promote public safety and protect Americans’ privacy.” Merkley’s office did note that the legislation “includes limited exceptions for law enforcement use of facial recognition pursuant to warrants issued by a court.”

“Facial recognition is a powerful and rapidly evolving technology, but without proper oversight, it poses a serious risk to privacy and safety,” said Booker. “Facial recognition technology has been demonstrated to be often inaccurate – misidentifying and disproportionately targeting women and people of color. To protect consumer privacy and safety, Congress must work to set the rules of the road for responsible uses of this technology by the Federal government.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.