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Politics

Facial recognition is a bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill

Democratic and Republican lawmakers agree it's time to take action on the technology.

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Democrats and Republicans agree it's time to take action on facial recognition. 

James Martin/CNET

Lawmakers are often divided on tech issues like data privacy, election security and platform censorship. But when it comes to facial recognition, they agree it's time to take action.

There's been increasing political pressure to reconsider the use facial recognition as research emerges that the technology is flawed and still being used without any regulations. San Francisco last week became the first city to ban the use of facial recognition from government agencies, but there's no federal legislation to provide that protection across the country.

"When you have a product that is defective and reading wrong, that's a problem. And it has a chilling effect on our total population," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The Democrat representing Maryland was not alone in his call to regulate the technology. Multiple lawmakers during the committee's hearing on facial recognition Wednesday pointed to the technology's accuracy and bias issues, along with concerns about how the surveillance threatens people's civil liberties.

The only federal legislation on facial recognition so far is a bipartisan bill that limits how businesses can use that data, but there're no regulations on how government agencies can use it.

That has allowed agencies like the FBI to amass a database of nearly half of all Americans' faces and share that for facial recognition searches with police departments across the country.

"I'm extremely concerned about the government having this kind of unchecked ability," said Rep. Michael Cloud, a Republican from Texas.

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The hearing wrapped up as shareholder efforts to curb Amazon's facial recognition program fell short. While more and more states are looking to push for their own facial recognition bans like San Francisco's, congressional members are looking into federal action.

"You've now hit the sweet spot that brings progressives and conservatives together," Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, said during the hearing. "The time is now before it gets out of control."

Pointing out racial and gender bias with the technology, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, warned that facial recognition threatens American values, and noted that Congress needs to stay ahead of the curve on tech issues.

"It's extraordinarily encouraging that this is a strong, bipartisan issue," she said. "This is about who we are as Americans, and the America that is going to be established as technology plays an increasingly large role in our societal infrastructure."