Facial-recognition technology threatens “the precious liberties that are vital to our way of life” and its use should be suspended by the U.S. government, privacy and civil rights organizations said this week.

The U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal agency, should recommend that the technology be suspended until further review, more than 40 of the organizations urged in a letter. The board advises the president and executive branch on privacy and civil liberty issues related to terrorism.

Debate over facial recognition software is growing as the technology is adopted by governments and companies like Clearview AI develops controversial tools used by law enforcement. While privacy advocates worry that it will be used to build a police surveillance state, the technology has also been found to generate false positives, especially among some groups, such as people of color. The European Union is considering banning facial-recognition software in public areas for up to five years.

“While we do not believe that improved accuracy of facial recognition would justify further deployment, we do believe that the obvious problems with bias and discrimination in the systems that are currently in use is an additional reason to recommend a blanket moratorium,” wrote the privacy groups, who are members of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The coalition pointed to recent disclosures about federal and local law enforcement’s increased use of Clearview technology, which scrapes photos from social media sites such as Facebook for its facial-recognition database. The letter also cited a recent study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that found that facial recognition technology was far more likely to assign false positives to Asian and African-American faces, and particularly African-American women.

Also, the groups said, “There is growing concern that facial recognition techniques used by authoritarian governments to control minority populations and limit dissent could spread quickly to democratic societies.”

  • Clearview AI has collected more than three billion images from the Internet to develop the company’s software, according to a New York Times investigation. Law enforcement agencies upload a photo of a person of interest, and then Clearview sends matching pictures from the Internet and links to where the images were found.
  • Last summer, the American Civil Liberties Union of California released a study that showed Amazon’s Rekognition software mistakenly matched the faces of more than one in five state legislators — 26 in all — to mugshots in criminal databases.