Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she checked to see if pigs could fly after she found a rare moment of common ground with House Republicans on Wednesday over the protection of Americans from surveillance.
During a House Oversight Committee hearing, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed the need for legislation to regulate the increasingly widespread use of facial recognition software to track members of the public.
“Check the sky for flying 🐽 bc Rep. Meadows, much of the Freedom Caucus & I are in agreement on preventing total surveillance of Americans without their knowledge,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter following the hearing. “Whether it’s Amazon or Gov, no one should be tracked w/o consent or a warrant,” she wrote.
Both law enforcement agencies and private companies have been using the technology to identify people’s faces in public and private settings. Amazon’s “Rekognition” software has been aggressively marketed to law enforcement groups, including the FBI and the Orlando Police Department, BuzzFeed News reported.
U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the Freedom Caucus, described facial recognition as a "sweet spot that brings progressives and conservatives together."
"When you have a diverse group on this committee, as diverse as you might see on the polar ends, I’m here to tell you, we’re serious about this and let’s get together and work on legislation and it is the time is now, before it gets out of control," Meadows said at the hearing.
"When you have a diverse group on this committee, as diverse as you might see on the polar ends, I’m here to tell you, we’re serious about this and let’s get together and work on legislation and it is the time is now, before it gets out of control."
— U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.
Lawmakers argued that Americans' civil liberties are in jeopardy, as inaccuracies in the technology could misidentify suspects and disproportionally target minorities. Republicans and Democrats agreed that Congress must draft new legislation to increase oversight and further regulate organizations that utilize the new tech.
“When government surveillance attacks civil liberties, Congress must step in and defend Americans,” U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, wrote on Twitter. He included a video of himself questioning Neema Singh Guliani, a senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, at the hearing.
“Our concerns about privacy rights aren't theoretical. We've seen it happen!” he wrote.
All five of America’s top tech companies — Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft — are developing their own facial recognition platforms, BuzzFeed News reported. Amazon’s board voted this week to block two proposals from shareholders who wanted to curb the sale of its facial recognition technology to law enforcement and conduct a study on how the tech might infringe on a person's right to privacy, according to Reuters.
"We’ve never seen anything like this technology before," Guliani said during her testimony on Wednesday. "The U.S. reportedly has over 50 million surveillance cameras. This, combined with face recognition threatens, to create a near-constant surveillance state."
"We’ve never seen anything like this technology before. The U.S. reportedly has over 50 million surveillance cameras. This, combined with face recognition threatens, to create a near-constant surveillance state."
— Neema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel, American Civil Liberties Union
"It's urgent that Congress act now," she said.
"I just got word that the shareholders did not end up passing a ban on the sale of Rekognition," Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., said at the hearing. "That just means that it's more important that Congress acts."
"We think it’s important for Congress to exercise oversight on this important issue and continue to support the creation of a national legislative framework covering facial recognition," Amazon said, according to the Hill.