WASHINGTON (Dec. 11, 2019) – The R Street Institute applauds the introduction of the Facial Recognition Technology Warrant Act of 2019, introduced last month by Senators Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Chris Coons, D-Del. The bill would issue much-needed guidance on federal use of facial recognition technology—a type of surveillance that is insufficiently addressed by federal law.

Facial recognition technology is an important tool that helps law enforcement agencies identify and track criminals, but when abused it can also violate privacy and open the door for potential discrimination. The Facial Recognition Technology Warrant Act is a crucial first step in addressing concerns over the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement.

In particular, the bill outlines a detailed and transparent reporting process, which would require a robust annual report on the federal use of facial recognition technology, including information on applications for warrants to surveil a suspect and data on misidentifications. Given the developing nature of facial recognition technology, publicly available and transparent information on misidentifications is important to avoid unintended bias and even outright discrimination.

According to R Street National Security and Cybersecurity Fellow Kristen Nyman, “The Lee/Coons facial recognition bill carefully balances law enforcement’s need to access the technology with protection for individual privacy and dignity, while also addressing the shortcomings of the technology. We believe there is a lot more work to be done in this space, including regulation of one-time use of facial recognition technology, but this bill is an important first step.”

Jesse Kelley, Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties Manager, adds “the warrant requirement within the Lee/Coons facial recognition bill helps to protect American citizens from potentially undue or unlawful privacy violations. This piece of legislation can begin to bridge the gap between technology and law enforcement tools, all the while preserving public safety.”