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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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Rift in Democratic Party over support for Israel

Washington: President Biden and Democratic Rep.  Rashida Tlaib engaged in a tense, roughly eight-minute conversation on the airport tarmac in Detroit after Biden’s arrival there Monday.

Tlaib refused to say what she and the president discussed, but at one point Biden patted the congresswoman’s shoulder. Later, during a speech in Dearborn, he lavishly complimented her.

“I want to say to you that I admire your intellect, I admire your passion, and I admire your concern for so many other people. And it’s from my heart,” Biden said later of Tlaib during his speech at the Ford factory. “I pray that your Grandma and family are well, I promise to do everything you see that they are in the West Bank.”

Tlaib has been fiercely critical of Biden and the State Department’s handling of the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel, Fox News reported.

“If you support a cease-fire, then get out of the way of the U.N. Security Council and join other countries in demanding it,” she said in a tweet directed at the president and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

Like Tlaib, a number of congressional Democrats are ramping up pressure on the Biden administration to more forcefully engage on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as violence in the region intensifies, revealing a delicate shift in the way Democrats have talked about Israel for decades and a small crack in the party on foreign policy.

The change in tone comes as there is still disagreement within the party about how far to push. Those on the progressive fringes are trying to block a $735 million arms deal made with Israel, but there’s little chance of that happening in Congress given the timeline on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, said of the deal and whether Congress should block it, “I am not ruling anything in or out, but I think given the events of the last three or four days that has to be part of the conversation too.”

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez said he hadn’t seen the details of the arms deal but that he was likely to support the deal moving forward: “I think it preexisted the present conflict. We have a long history of supporting Israel as a security ally and in its own defense. So I would say yes.”

Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with fellow Democrats on the committee, is expected to send a letter and statement to the White House on Tuesday calling for the arms deal to be delayed, according to two sources familiar with the plan.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, declined to say whether he backed the deal when asked by reporters Monday.

However, he did say that he hoped for a ceasefire.

“I want to see a ceasefire reached quickly and mourn the loss of life,” Schumer told reporters.

On Monday, the White House released a readout of President Joe Biden’s call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which Biden “expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end.”

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