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Hirono, Colleagues Applaud FTC for Enforcement Against Rite Aid’s Discriminatory Use of Facial Recognition Technology

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) joined 11 of her Senate colleagues in sending a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) applauding its recent enforcement action against Rite Aid for its use of discriminatory and invasive facial recognition technology. The letter, led by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), also urged the FTC to use every tool available to continue robust enforcement to protect consumers and prevent discriminatory surveillance, which poses dangerous threats to people’s privacy and civil liberties. 

“The Rite Aid complaint and settlement illustrate the unique threats that facial recognition and other biometric identification systems pose for Black communities, communities of color, and low-income individuals,” wrote the lawmakers. “As locations in every sector—from pharmacies to amusement parks to sports stadiums—increasingly employ facial recognition systems, the FTC has a responsibility to use every available tool to protect consumers and prevent discriminatory surveillance. As facial recognition technology proliferates across industries, we encourage the FTC to continue its recent robust enforcement using the full range of its regulatory authority.” 

In the Rite Aid settlement, the FTC uncovered that the company’s use of facial recognition systems in its pharmacies led to thousands of false identifications, resulting in individuals being wrongfully searched, accused of shoplifting, and even expelled from Rite Aid stores. Rite Aid did not disclose its use of facial recognition technology, and even discouraged employees from informing customers of its use. Finally, the Commission found that the company disproportionally deployed facial recognition tools in neighborhoods with a plurality of people of color. The lawmakers commended the FTC for its action against Rite Aid, while highlighting the need to continue taking all necessary steps, including robust enforcement and investigatory measures, to combat harmful biometric identification systems. 

While studies have shown facial recognition tools misidentify people of color and women at higher rates than white, male faces, these systems are also more likely to be deployed in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. False matches and biased deployment lead to real harms, including wrongful searches, removals from businesses, and even arrests.

In addition to Senators Hirono and Markey, the letter was also signed by Senators Peter Welch (D-VT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Laphonza Butler (D-CA).

The full text of the letter is available here.