Senators Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley introduced a bill in the US Senate which prohibits private companies from collecting people’s biometrics, including facial data, eye scans, voiceprints, and fingerprints, without their consent. It also bars private entities from selling, and leasing biometric data of people. Even in terms of consent, the bill, called National Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2020, requires private companies to receive written consent from consumers and employees before collecting biometric data such as eye scans or fingerprints. In case written consent isn’t obtained from a person, they will be in a position to sue the private entity, according to the bill.
“We can’t let companies scoop up or profit from people’s faces and fingerprints without their consent,” said Merkley. “We have to fight against a ‘big brother’ surveillance state that eradicates our privacy and our control of our own information, be it a threat from the government or from private companies.” “Do we really want to live under constant surveillance by unaccountable corporations? I don’t. We cannot allow Orwellian facial recognition technology to continue to violate the privacy and civil liberties of the American people,” said Sanders.
The bill is supported by rights organisations like Fight for the Future, The American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Open Technology Institute.
Other provisions of the bill
Produce guidelines on destroying data: The bill also says that two months after enactment, any private entity in possession of biometric identifiers will have to develop and make available to the public a written policy establishing a retention schedule and guidelines for permanently destroying that data. Even if an individual consented a private entity to collect their biometric data, private entities will have to delete the data one year from the person’s last intentional interaction with the private entity
Right to know: The bill will require any business that collects, uses, shares, or sells biometric identifiers or biometric data, upon the request of an individual, to disclose, free of charge, any such information relating to such individual collected during the preceding 12-month period.
Compensation: A person aggrieved by the violation of any of the bill’s provisions will be entitled to receive $1,000 in liquidated damages per violation, or the actual damages suffered by them, upon filing a class action lawsuit.
The backlash against facial recognition tech in the US
The bill comes amid growing concerns over the prevalence of biometric data collection among private companies, including the use of facial recognition technology, and especially the implications of that use on the safety of communities of colour. It also comes just weeks after the New York State placed a moratorium on the use of biometric identification technologies, including facial recognition, in schools until July 2022.
Protests in the US against racial profiling and indiscrimination has forced companies to take a stand against the technology. Microsoft has said that it will not sell the tech to police in the US until a federal law, while Amazon has committed to doing the same, albeit just for a year. IBM has said that it will altogether stop offering “general-purpose facial recognition and analysis software”.
Members of the United States have introduced a bill which prohibits federal agencies and officials from acquiring, possessing, accessing, and even using “any biometric surveillance system”, such as facial recognition technology.