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Police, Tech Groups Weigh in Against Facial Recognition Ban (Corrected)

Sept. 26, 2019, 6:25 PMUpdated: Sept. 27, 2019, 7:54 PM

A coalition of law enforcement and tech groups is urging Congress not to prevent police from using facial recognition tools.

Lawmakers should consider “many of the viable alternatives to bans so that law enforcement can use facial recognition technology safely, accurately, and effectively,” the group of 39 technology trade associations and law enforcement groups, businesses, and individuals, said in a Sept. 26 open letter.

The letter comes amid rising concern over whether law enforcement should be using the technology, which identifies or verifies people by analyzing and comparing facial patterns, for crime-solving and public safety.

Civil liberties and privacy organizations have called on Congress and state and local governments to enact bans or moratoria on police and government uses, citing concerns that the technology can be less accurate and reliable in identifying people of color and women, and could be misused.

“While we agree that it is important to have effective oversight and accountability of these tools to uphold and protect civil liberties, we disagree that a ban is the best option to move forward,” the coalition, including the National Police Foundation and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said.

A ban would make it harder for law enforcement “to do their jobs efficiently, stay safe, and protect our communities,” it wrote. The group suggested expanding testing standards for the facial recognition technology, and developing best practices and guidance for law enforcement.

There are no pending bills that would ban law enforcement use of the technology. Lawmakers from both parties have signaled interest in writing legislation to mandate transparency in how the federal government uses it. The House Oversight and Reform Committee held hearings earlier this year on the impact of facial recognition technology on civil liberties, and federal agency uses.

Three cities have recently banned local law enforcement and government from using the technology, and more cities and states are considering similar bans or pauses.

The coalition stressed that the technology is being used to help solve crimes, and opportunities to employ it will increase as a “security countermeasure against threats in airports, schools, and other public venues” as it improves. Representatives from law enforcement, civil society, industry, and academia are willing to work with lawmakers to design safeguards, the coalition said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Merken in Washington at smerken@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com