Bernie Sanders is calling for a ban on police using facial-recognition technology, which has been criticized by civil liberty advocates, as part of a plan to “ensure law enforcement accountability and robust oversight.” The proposal, included in a criminal justice reform agenda Sanders’ campaign published over the weekend, makes him the first 2020 candidate to condemn law enforcement’s use of the technology—and may push some of his Democratic competitors to do the same. “We must ensure these tools do not have any implicit biases that lead to unjust or excessive sentences,” Sanders wrote of the use of artificial intelligence in policing.
The use of AI by the government and law enforcement has elicited serious concerns about its potential for abuse. Proponents of the technology, which is already in use in police departments across the country, say it’s a valuable, if flawed, tool to promote public safety. But its critics, including Sanders, have predicted a more dystopian result. “Police use of facial recognition software is the latest example of Orwellian technology that violates our privacy and civil liberties under the guise of public safety,” Sarah Ford, a Sanders campaign spokesperson, told CNN Business on Monday, “and it must stop.”
Already, some are attempting to limit the technology’s reach. In May, San Francisco, where it originated, became the first city in the country to ban police use of facial recognition. “We have an outsize responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered here,” city supervisor Aaron Peskin, who sponsored that bill, said at the time. Staffers of Amazon Web Service, which pitched its Rekognition software to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, circulated an internal email demanding the company cut ties to ICE, and protesters have organized against AWS, accusing it of being “complicit” in Trump’s border crackdown by partnering with the federal government.
Despite evidence of bias, however, facial-recognition technology is still in use. (“We are going to continue to support the [Department of Defense], and I think we should,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in October, after some of his employees called for an end to Amazon’s DoD contract.) A bipartisan bill by Reps. Elijah Cummings and Jim Jordan seeking to impose regulations is expected to be introduced later this year, and several other 2020 candidates —Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren—have expressed their unease about the tech’s potential for abuse. So far, Sanders’ proposal goes the furthest, and could build momentum behind calls for a ban, both on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail. “Bernie is proud to join cities like San Francisco in banning the use of this technology for policing and, as president, will enact a nationwide ban on facial recognition software for policing, including at the state and local levels,” Ford said.
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