Congressional hearing to focus on facial recognition and national security

US Capitol

AI Outlook

AI Outlook


An oversight hearing to look into the national security implications of facial recognition technology  previously scheduled for the week of December 16 has been postponed until next year.  The hearing by the National Security Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Investigations Committee, will be the latest in a series of sessions for lawmakers to address the consequences and repercussions of the increasingly widespread deployment of the AI-powered technology capable of identifying or verifying a person’s identity from a digital image or a video frame.

Representative Stephen Lynch (D-MA), chairman of Oversight's National Security Subcommittee, announced on December 12 that the committee would be pushing back the hearing due to the impeachment proceedings and end-of-year legislative responsibilities.   

While previous hearings on facial recognition in the Oversight Committee and other congressional panels have largely emphasized privacy issues, due process, and concerns about bias, conscious or not, the upcoming hearing will also examine the impacts of the emerging technology in such areas as trade, regulatory, and national security policies. Witnesses from the federal government and outside experts are expected to provide testimony.

Subcommittee chair Representative Stephen Lynch (D-MA) was quoted in a media report saying that technologies controlled by foreign governments and their implications for privacy and national security would be a major subject of attention at the hearing. In addition to his post on Oversight, the major investigative committee in the House, Lynch chairs a recently created Task Force on Financial Technology in the House Financial Services Committee.

The anticipated hearing is the latest demonstration of Congressional interest in facial recognition technology and its public policy implications. Last month, bipartisan legislation (S 2878) was introduced in the Senate by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Mike Lee (R-UT) that would require federal law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before using facial recognition tools to track an individual.

Legislation introduced in the House earlier this year – HR 3875, sponsored by Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) – would ban the purchase of facial recognition tools by federal agencies. Measures offered in the House and Senate would prohibit the use of facial recognition in public housing. The No Biometric Barriers Housing Act of 2019 (HR 4008S 2689) was introduced in July by Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and in October by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). The sponsors of these bills have stressed Fourth Amendment concerns about unreasonable searches and seizures. "This unregulated and under-researched technology should be banned in public housing units until additional oversight of its development and deployment is possible," Representative Pressley said in a fact sheet issued by her office.

Learn more by contacting either of the authors.

This alert was updated on December 13, 2019 to reflect breaking developments.