Ban biometric surveillance: civil society demands outright prohibitions on public and private use

Today, June 7, Access Now and over 175 civil society organizations, activists, and researchers from across the globe are calling for a ban on uses of facial recognition and remote biometric recognition that enable mass and discriminatory targeted surveillance. 

Civil society organizations, activists, researchers, and technologists are drawing a line in the sand and demanding legal prohibitions on the use of these tools in publicly accessible spaces, whether by governments, law enforcement, or private actors.

“Facial recognition and related biometric recognition technologies have no place in public. These technologies track and profile people as they go about their daily lives, treating them as suspects and creating dangerous incentives for overuse and discrimination,” said Daniel Leufer, Europe Policy Analyst at Access Now. “They need to be banned here and now.”

These surveillance tools have the capacity to identify, follow, single out, profile, and track people everywhere they go, undermining human rights and civil liberties. They are an attack on privacy and data protection, exacerbate inequality and discrimination, and have the potential to muzzle freedom of expression and assembly —  further solidifying the criminalization of protest.

“Despite the systematic violation of our rights, the implementation of these technologies keeps growing,” said Verónica Arroyo, Latin America Policy Associate at Access Now. “Governments justify it by citing public security concerns and claiming to adopt legal safeguards. From regional experience, we know that those claims and safeguards are only a facade to mask the harms. This must stop.” 

As part of the demands, the coalition is calling on governments to:

  • Stop all public investment in uses of facial recognition and remote biometric technologies that enable mass surveillance and discriminatory targeted surveillance; and
  • Prohibit the use of these technologies in publicly accessible spaces, by both public bodies and private entities, where such use could enable mass surveillance or discriminatory targeted surveillance.

Beyond government regulation, the group also urges private companies to cease the creation, development, sale, and use of facial recognition and remote biometric recognition technologies that enable mass surveillance and discriminatory targeted surveillance. Investors are urged to call on the companies they fund to cease creating, developing, selling, or otherwise making available these technologies for harmful uses.

“Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM have backed away from selling facial recognition technologies to police. Investors are calling for limitations on how this technology is used. This shows that the private sector is well aware of the dangers that biometric surveillance poses to human rights,” said Isedua Oribhabor, U.S. Policy Analyst at Access Now. “But being aware of the problem is not enough — it is time to act. The private sector should fully address the impacts of biometric surveillance by ceasing to create or develop this technology in the first place.”  

People across the globe can join the fight to protect human rights from biometric surveillance by signing the letter and getting involved with a local campaign: 

This letter is the result of collaboration between Access Now, Amnesty International, Internet Freedom Foundation India, European Digital Rights (EDRi), Instituto Brasileiro de Defesa do Consumidor (IDEC), and Human Rights Watch.