Civil Society Coalition Releases Statement of Concerns Regarding Law Enforcement Use of Face Recognition Technology

Press Release
June 3, 2021

New America’s Open Technology Institute, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Upturn, together with 39 other civil society organizations, today released a statement highlighting six major civil rights concerns regarding law enforcement use of face recognition technology. This statement comes ahead of the one-year anniversary of IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft’s pause on sales of face recognition technology to law enforcement, in response to last summer’s uprising and increased public attention on policing’s disproportionate harms against Black and Brown people. While a growing number of states and localities have taken action to halt or rein in the use of face recognition, especially over the past year, Congress has been slow to act to address the harms of the technology.

Meanwhile, across the country, local, state, and federal law enforcement and immigration agencies are already using face recognition systems to identify, track, and target individuals—in secret and without authorization, or any safeguards. This technology dramatically expands law enforcement’s power and poses severe threats to everyone’s safety, wellbeing, and freedoms of expression and association—but especially for Black and Brown communities, Muslim communities, immigrant communities, Indigenous communities, and other people marginalized and targeted by policing. In this statement, the coalition outlines six civil rights concerns with law enforcement use of face recognition technology: 

  1. Regardless of technical accuracy, law enforcement use of face recognition systems could exacerbate the harms of policing in communities that are already disproportionately targeted by the police. 
  2. Law enforcement use of face recognition threatens individual and community privacy by allowing invasive and persistent tracking and targeting. 
  3. Law enforcement use of face recognition can chill First Amendment-protected activities.
  4. Law enforcement use of face recognition can easily violate due process rights and otherwise infringe upon procedural justice.
  5. Face recognition systems used by law enforcement often rely on images that have been obtained without consent.
  6. In addition to racial bias in how law enforcement uses face recognition, the technology itself poses disproportionate risks of misidentification for Black, Asian, and Indigenous people.

The coalition urges policymakers to act now to protect the public from face recognition technology, adding that a ban or moratorium on law enforcement use of face recognition is the most effective way to address all of these concerns. 

The following quote can be attributed to Lauren Sarkesian, senior policy counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute: 

“The civil rights harms of face recognition technology are severe and urgently need to be addressed. It is past time that policymakers act on this dangerous technology, which threatens our privacy, freedoms of speech and association, and disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities. We urge lawmakers to work swiftly and comprehensively to address these concerns by halting law enforcement use of face recognition technology at all levels.” 

The following quote can be attributed to Sakira Cook, senior director of the Justice Reform Program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:

“Face recognition technology poses a serious and undeniable threat to the civil and constitutional rights of individuals, especially to Black and Brown people and other marginalized communities. Not only are there serious concerns with the accuracy of the technology, but any errors are compounded by law enforcement that has a history of over-policing and surveillance of communities of color. Policymakers must act swiftly to ensure that law enforcement do not have another tool to disproportionately discriminate against our most vulnerable communities. We look forward to working closely with the coalition and the administration to address the serious concerns with this technology.”


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Action Center on Race and the Economy
American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International USA
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC 
Brennan Center for Justice
Center for Democracy & Technology
Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law
Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at NYU Law
Color of Change
Defending Rights & Dissent
Demand Progress Education Fund
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
Fight for the Future
Free Press
Government Information Watch
Innocence Project
Just Futures Law
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Legal Aid Society of New York City
Media Alliance
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Hispanic Media Coalition
New America’s Open Technology Institute
Oakland Privacy
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates
Open MIC (Open Media and Information Companies Initiative)
Project on Government Oversight
Public Citizen
Restore The Fourth
S.T.O.P. – The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project

Related Topics
Local Government Surveillance Federal Surveillance Reform Government Surveillance