- The Washington Times
Monday, November 4, 2019

The American Civil Liberties Union, accusing the federal government of hiding its use of facial recognition technology, filed a lawsuit to get more information about the potential invasion of privacy.

The civil rights group petitioned a federal court Thursday to force the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration to reveal details about their biometric identification and tracking technologies.


“These technologies have the potential to enable undetectable, persistent and suspicionless surveillance on an unprecedented scale. Such surveillance would permit the government to pervasively track people’s movements and associations in ways that threaten core constitutional values,” the complaint read.

They want to make details public about programs the federal government might be using that contain sensitive data and any safeguards to keep personal data private.

The FBI is believed to be operating a unit offering facial analysis, comparison and evaluation (FACE) services, in which investigative leads are given to FBI field offices trying to nab suspects. The FBI also operates a photo-system where law enforcement agencies can access and search 30 million photos.

Some facial recognition technology has proven faulty in identifying minorities, which raises concerns that innocent people might be at risk of wrongful criminal probes or prosecution.

The ACLU had sought the material through a Freedom of Information Act request in January but did not have any success getting the Trump administration to turn over the information.

Some cities already have banned the new science.

San Francisco in May became the first major city to prohibit the use of facial recognition technology by local law enforcement. The city reasoned it could be abused and infringe on privacy rights.

Other California cities such as Oakland and Berkeley have followed suit.

Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said there can be no accountability from the government unless there is transparency.

“The public has a right to know when, where and how law enforcement agencies are using face recognition technology, and what safeguards, if any, are in place to protect our rights. This dystopian surveillance technology threatens to fundamentally alter our free society into one where we’re treated as suspects to be tracked and monitored by the government 24/7,” Ms. Crockford said.

A representative from the Justice Department declined to comment on the ACLU lawsuit.

Freshman members of Congress also have taken up the issue, including two members of “The Squad,” a group of progressive lawmakers in the House.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts Democrat, co-sponsored a bill this summer to prevent the Department of Housing and Urban Development from using facial recognition technology at public housing facilities.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, has said she would support legislation to regulate the use of the technology.


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