Senator Markey Joins Reverend Warnock, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Durbin, and 16 Senators in raising concerns to the Department of Justice that funding frequently inaccurate facial recognition software could lead to violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act

Washington (January 19, 2024) - Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) joined Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and 16 other senators in raising concerns with the Department of Justice (DOJ) that funding facial recognition software, which can be inaccurate and unreliable, may lead to violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits “discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” The senators also called for additional action and oversight from DOJ concerning these fallible technologies. The letter follows widespread reporting about Georgia resident, Randal Quran Reid, who was arrested in November 2022 while driving to his mother’s house for a crime committed in Louisiana, a state Reid has never visited. Reid’s case is not an anomaly: there are at least five other publicly known cases of Black people falsely arrested based on nothing more than a facial recognition software match.

“We are deeply concerned that facial recognition technology may reinforce racial bias in our criminal justice system and contribute to arrests based on faulty evidence,” wrote the senators to the Department of Justice. “Errors in facial recognition technology can upend the lives of American citizens. Should evidence demonstrate that errors systematically discriminate against communities of color, then funding these technologies could facilitate violations of federal civil rights laws.”

Numerous academic and government studies establish that facial recognition technology is especially likely to misidentify not only Black faces, but Native American, and Asian faces as well. One studyfound that facial recognition software was up to twice as likely to find false positives for Black and Asian faces.

In addition to Senator Markey, Senator Warnock, and Chair Durbin, the letter is signed by Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.),  Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

“The explosion of artificial intelligence and algorithmic systems is raising crucial questions about how new technologies will exacerbate existing racial disparities,” said Cody Venzke, Senior Policy Counsel in the ACLU’s National Political Advocacy Department. “Those questions are even more pressing in law enforcement, where AI-driven facial recognition technology has increased error rates for Black, Native American, and Asian people and has led to multiple false arrests. Facial recognition technology threatens basic civil rights, and today's letter asks crucial questions about the DOJ's role in supporting and perpetuating its use.”

“Facial recognition technology is a racially biased tool with unchecked potential to limit civil rights and liberties,” said Brandon Tucker, Senior Director of Policy & Government Affairs at Color Of Change. “Its use increases the surveillance of Black people by corporate actors and law enforcement agencies. Strong anti-surveillance principles and anti-discrimination principles are vital to prevent improper data collection and use. We stand behind any and all efforts to better protect and strengthen the civil rights and liberties for all, particularly in Black communities.”

“As Mr. Reid's horrific experience shows, facial recognition technology poses a grave threat, especially to persons of color who are 100 times more at risk for misidentification,” said Chris Bruce, Esq., Policy Director for the ACLU of Georgia. “We join the call to ensure this technology will not be used to discriminate against communities of color and safeguards are placed to protect the civil rights and liberties of all.”

“The widespread and ever-growing use of facial recognition technology poses profound risks to our civil rights and freedoms. Time and again, data has shown that these technologies perpetuate and reinforce existing discrimination, especially within our criminal legal system, resulting in the wrongful surveillance and arrests of Black and Brown people across the country,” said Quinn Anex-Ries, policy associate at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The Lawyers’ Committee applauds Senators Raphael Warnock and Dick Durbin for leading this effort to ensure that facial recognition technology and other biometric tools are analyzed and audited for compliance with and adherence to our nation’s civil rights laws. While stronger protections are certainly needed to fully address the harmful effects of this technology, this effort is a critical step forward.”

A full copy of the letter can be found HERE.