The Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Act of 2019 (S 847), bipartisan legislation introduced last year and still pending in the US Senate, would prohibit companies that use facial recognition technology from collecting or sharing users’ data without their explicit consent. If the bill, or some of its key provisions, ultimately becomes law, the effects would be felt not only by US artificial intelligence (AI) companies but would also reach the Israeli AI firms in this space, many of which are looking to penetrate the US market.
Emerging technologies such as AI and facial recognition are increasingly an area of focus for DC policymakers.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee last month held the third in a series of facial recognition issues on the topic of “Ensuring Commercial Transparency & Accuracy.” Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), expressing concerns about privacy, civil liberties, and equal protection, said the private sector’s increasingly widespread deployment of the AI-powered technology capable of identifying or verifying a person’s identity from a digital image or a video frame “is just not ready for prime time.” She indicated that her committee will be introducing and marking up “common sense facial recognition technology in the near future.”
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a January hearing on the topic of “Technologies of the Future” where lawmakers examined how the US can maintain its global economic edge in AI and other technologies, including R&D investments, regulatory changes, and workforce training.
Reducing AI bias in the financial services sector was the subject of a February 12 hearing by a new AI Task Force in the House Financial Services Committee. Another Congressional oversight hearing, this one to explore the national security implications of facial recognition technology, had been scheduled for December but has been postponed. A new date has not yet been set for that hearing by the National Security Subcommittee of Oversight and Reform.
Subcommittee chair Representative Stephen Lynch (D-MA) was quoted in a media report saying that technologies controlled by foreign governments and their implications for privacy and national security would be a major subject of attention at the hearing. In addition to his post on Oversight, the major investigative committee in the House, Lynch chairs a recently created Task Force on Financial Technology in the House Financial Services Committee.
The anticipated hearing is the latest demonstration of Congressional interest in facial recognition technology and its public policy implications. In 2019, bipartisan legislation (S 2878) was introduced in the Senate by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Mike Lee (R-UT) that would require federal law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before using facial recognition tools to track an individual.
Legislation introduced in the House earlier this year – HR 3875, sponsored by Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) – would ban the purchase of facial recognition tools by federal agencies. Measures offered in the House and Senate would prohibit the use of facial recognition in public housing. The No Biometric Barriers Housing Act of 2019 (HR 4008, S 2689) was introduced in July by Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and in October by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). The sponsors of these bills have stressed Fourth Amendment concerns about unreasonable searches and seizures. “This unregulated and under-researched technology should be banned in public housing units until additional oversight of its development and deployment is possible,” Representative Pressley said in a fact sheet issued by her office.
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