Legislation Comes After Robert Williams Shares Story of Being Wrongfully Arrested Because of the Flawed Technology

June 25, 2020

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress today introduced legislation that would halt federal use of and funding for face recognition surveillance technologies. The bill, Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2020, comes after the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a complaint against Detroit police for wrongfully arresting Robert Williams, a Black man living in Michigan, because of flawed face recognition technology.

“No one should have to fear the government tracking and identifying their face wherever they go. No one should have to go through what the Williams family has gone through,” said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani. “It's past time Congress halted the use of face recognition and stopped federal money from being used to invest in invasive and discriminatory surveillance. This bill should immediately pass.”

In an op-ed published by the Washington Post, Robert Williams wrote: “Why is law enforcement even allowed to use such technology when it obviously doesn’t work? I get angry when I hear companies, politicians and police talk about how this technology isn’t dangerous or flawed. What’s worse is that, before this happened to me, I actually believed them. I thought, what’s so terrible if they’re not invading our privacy and all they’re doing is using this technology to narrow in on a group of suspects?”

Robert was arrested in broad daylight in front of his wife and two little daughters. He was detained for nearly 30 hours because of a false face recognition match.

The ACLU has also been leading a nationwide effort to defend privacy rights and civil liberties against the growing threat of face recognition surveillance, and for years has been calling on Congress to immediately stop the law enforcement use of the technology nationwide. Just yesterday, as part of an ACLU of Massachusetts led coalition effort, Boston passed a resolution banning city use of the technology. Earlier, multiple localities banned law enforcement use of face recognition technology as part of ACLU-led campaigns, including San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, California, as well as Cambridge, Springfield, and Somerville, Massachusetts.

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