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Pramila Jayapal introduces legislation to ban facial recognition tech by govt

Led by Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a group of US lawmakers has introduced a bicameral legislation to stop government use of biometric technology, including facial recognition tools, which they said violates the privacy of citizens and “deepens racial bias” in policing.

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, introduced on Tuesday, responds to reports that hundreds of local, state and federal entities, including law enforcement agencies, have used unregulated facial recognition technologies and research showing that roughly half of US adults are already in facial recognition databases.

While Jayapal along with Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib introduced the legislation in the House of Representatives, Senators Edward J Markey, Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden introduced it in the Senate.

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act would place a prohibition on the use of facial recognition technology by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress. It also prohibits use of other biometric technologies, including voice recognition, gate recognition and recognition of other immutable physical characteristics by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress.

The Act imposes conditions on federal grant funding to state and local entities, including law enforcement, on those entities enacting their own moratoria on the use of facial recognition and biometric technology and prohibit the use of federal dollars for biometric surveillance systems. It prohibits the use of information collected via biometric technology in violation of the Act in any judicial proceedings.

Facial recognition technology is not only invasive, inaccurate and unregulated, but it has also been unapologetically weaponized by law enforcement against Black people across this country. That’s why I have long called on companies like Amazon to stop selling this technology, and it’s why we need to immediately take additional steps to rein in its use, Jayapal said.

This legislation will not only protect civil liberties but aggressively fight back against racial injustice by stopping federal entities from using facial recognition and biometric surveillance tools while stripping support for state and local law enforcement departments that continue its use, she added.

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Latest News New York

Lawmakers urge HHS to address racial disparities in receiving COVID-19 vaccines

Democratic lawmakers are urging the US Health and Human Services Department to address racial health disparities related to the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

In a letter to HHS-designate Xavier Becerra, Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) called for him to “collect, disseminate, and make publicly available (a national) demographic breakdown” of current and future administration of vaccines.

“The pandemic has only exacerbated already existing vulnerabilities and inequalities, particularly in access to health care,” Meng wrote. “Furthermore, inadequate access to the COVID-19 vaccine increases health disparities among vulnerable populations across the United States.”

Last Thursday, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) sent a similar  letter to acting HHS secretary Norris Cochran, pushing for “robust demographic data.”

They noted that there does not currently exist comprehensive racial, ethnic, and demographics data on those inoculated.

“[T]his lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in our most vulnerable communities,” they wrote.

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