Your face is no longer just your face—it’s been augmented. At a football game, your face is currency, used to buy food at the stadium. At the mall, it is a ledger, used to alert salespeople to your past purchases, both online and offline, and shopping preferences. At a protest, it is your arrest history. At the morgue, it is how authorities will identify your body.
Facial-recognition technology stands to transform social life, tracking our every move for companies, law enforcement, and anyone else with the right tools. Lawmakers are weighing the risks versus rewards, with a recent wave of proposed regulation in Washington State, Massachusetts, Oakland, and the U.S. legislature. In May, Republicans and Democrats in the House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard hours of testimony about how unregulated facial recognition already tracks protesters, impacts the criminal-justice system, and exacerbates racial biases. Surprisingly, they agreed to work together to regulate it.
“You’ve hit the sweet spot that brings progressives and conservatives together,” Republican Mark Meadows of North Carolina said at the hearing. “The time is now, before it gets out of control.”
Agreement is shocking in a political moment defined by polarization, but lightning has seemingly struck twice. Microsoft and Amazon, the makers of Face API and Rekognition software, respectively, also both endorse federal regulation. In June, Axon, the number-one body-camera manufacturer in the United States, agreed with its ethics board’s proposal not to outfit Axon cameras with facial recognition (at least for the foreseeable future). The Microsoft president Brad Smith called for governments “to start adopting laws to regulate this technology” last year, while the Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy echoed those comments in June, likening the technology to a knife. It’s a less dramatic image than the plutonium and nuclear-waste metaphors critics employ, but his message—coming from an executive at one of the world’s most powerful facial-recognition technology outfits—is clear: This stuff is dangerous.