NDAA Amendment Would Put Hold on Facial Recognition at DHS, DoJ

A bipartisan proposed amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020 would prevent the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) from spending funds on any expansion of facial recognition technologies.

The amendment is backed by representatives from very different ends of the political spectrum – Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chair of the House Freedom Caucus. The amendment appears to have been submitted to the House Rules Committee on July 9, but the Rules Committee has not decided whether to approve the amendment.

The amendment states that no FY20 funds for DHS or DoJ may be used to acquire facial recognition technology, except for existing pilots and testing programs. The bill also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to submit a report on the current use of facial recognition technology at DoJ and DHS, an analysis of the accuracy of the technology today, and whether the Federal government has procedures in place to ensure accuracy and lack of bias.

The issue of facial recognition technology has drawn both bipartisan concern and support. During a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in May, members shared their concerns about the ramifications of the technology’s usage.

“You’ve hit the sweet spot that brings progressives and conservatives together,” said Meadows during the hearing.

“American citizens are being placed in jeopardy as a result of a system that is not ready for primetime,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

However, sentiment in the House Homeland Security Committee’s July 10 hearing took a more positive tone, demonstrating that passage of the amendment is no guarantee.

“Biometric technologies have the potential to improve security, facilitate travel, and better enforce our immigration laws,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala. “Not only does Federal law authorize DHS to use biometrics to verify identities, it requires [Customs and Border Patrol] to collect biometric entry and exit data for all foreign nationals … and recent technological mandates have finally made it possible,” he added.

“Biometrics and facial recognition technology may be a useful homeland security and facilitation tool, but as with any tool it has the potential to be misused,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

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