On Wednesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that she checked to see if pigs could fly after she found that she stood on common ground with House Republicans over the protection of Americans from surveillance. During a House Oversight Committee hearing, lawmakers from sides declared the need for legislation that would regulate the widespread use of facial recognition software to track citizens of the United States.
After the hearing, Ocasio-Cortez posted a tweet in which she said: “Check the sky for flying [pig] bc Rep. Meadows, much of the Freedom Caucus & I are in agreement on preventing total surveillance of Americans without their knowledge. Whether it’s Amazon or Gov, no one should be tracked w/o consent or a warrant.”
Law enforcement agencies, as well as private companies, have been using technology to identify people’s faces in private and public settings. According to BuzzFeed News, Amazon’s “Rekognition” software has been marketed to law enforcement groups, such as the FBI and the Orlando Police Department.
Chairman of the Freedom Caucus, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, described the facial recognition software as “sweet spot that brings progressives and conservatives together.” During the hearing, Meadows said: “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.”
According to lawmakers, the civil liberties granted to Americans are in jeopardy, especially when you consider the fact that inaccuracies in the software could misidentify suspects and target minorities. Both the Republicans and the Democrats agreed that Congress needs to write up new legislation to increase oversight and regulate the organizations that use the technology.
U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, wrote on Twitter: “When government surveillance attacks civil liberties, Congress must step in and defend Americans.” He also included a video of himself questioning Neema Singh Guliani, a senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, during the hearing. “Our concerns about privacy rights aren’t theoretical. We’ve seen it happen!” wrote Jordan.
According to BuzzFeed News, every one of the top tech companies in the United States – Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft – are developing their own version of facial recognition software. Just this week, Amazon’s board voted to block two proposals from shareholders who wanted to temporarily stop the sale of facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies. According to Reuters, they also wanted to study how the technology could infringe on a person’s right to privacy.
On Wednesday, during the hearing, Guliani said: “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.” She continued by saying: “It’s urgent that Congress act now.”
During the hearing, Rep. Jimmy Gomez said: “I just got word that the shareholders did not end up passing a ban on the sale of Rekognition. That just means that it’s more important that Congress acts.”
According to the Hill, Amazon said: “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.”