Federal Agencies Seek Regulations for Facial Recognition Technology

A report from a government watchdog says that some federal law enforcement agencies haven’t taught their staff how to use facial recognition technology properly or put in place rules to protect people’s civil rights when it’s used.

Why it’s important: Federal, state, and local police are using facial recognition technology more and more. This technology has led to several false arrests across the country, mostly of Black men and women, according to advocates, research, and news reports.

  • The technology has also been criticized for a long time for not being able to correctly identify Black people and other people with dark skin.
  • Even so, the technology is being quickly adopted by police, stores, airports, and sports arenas. Because crime rates have gone up, some local governments that initially put limits on its use are thinking about whether to loosen those limits.
  • The lawyer for the Black man who was jailed in Georgia for almost a week last year said that a facial recognition system got the wrong person as a suspect in a New Orleans robbery.
  • The man, who said he had never been to Louisiana, was let go after police realized their mistake, according to the Advocate.

Based on a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the FBI, DEA, Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations, and three other agencies used facial recognition systems to look into crimes from October 2019 to March 2022 without training their staff.

  • The report said that about three agencies—HSI, the Marshals Service, and the Secret Service—had rules or instructions for using technology that specifically looked at civil rights and civil liberties. In April 2020, the Secret Service stopped using facial recognition for the most part.
  • Aside from that, the GAO found that six agencies did about 60,000 photo searches without having the right training in place.

According to Alex Fitzpatrick of Axios, the newest facial recognition surveillance technology can identify people seen on security cameras in real-time or very close to them.

  • Its goal is to connect security camera footage with public images of that person that are linked to their identity, like mug shots or social media profiles.

The GAO report says that by December, the Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of many of the agencies in the report, will have finished writing a policy on facial recognition systems that applies to the whole department.

  • The department told the GAO in a letter that it was still committed to protecting privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties, as well as making things more open and clear, in all of its activities and programs.
  • The Justice Department, which is in charge of the FBI and other agencies, has been working on a department-wide policy for a while now, but it has been slow going in part because of money problems.
  • A spokeswoman for the Justice Department told Axios that the report is being looked over.

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