In June the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report detailing the widespread use of facial recognition technology, including law enforcement using databases of faceprints from government agencies and private firms. Privacy and civil rights organizations have been warning for the last few years that the use of facial recognition technology was a digital Wild West with little to no regulation determining the limits of the tech.
Now, the GAO’s new report shows that at least twenty of the forty-two U.S. government agencies surveyed have used the technology. These departments include those associated with law enforcement – the FBI, Secret Service, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, US Capitol Police, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Drug Enforcement Administration – as well as less obvious departments such as the U.S. Postal Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and NASA.
Six U.S. agencies admitted to using facial recognition on people who attended the protests after the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. The report states that the agencies claim they only used the tech on people accused of breaking the law.
“Thirteen federal agencies do not have awareness of what non-federal systems with facial recognition technology are used by employees,” the report said. “These agencies have therefore not fully assessed the potential risks of using these systems, such as risks related to privacy and accuracy.”
The GAO calls for increased training for law enforcement, stating that such training could “reduce risks associated with analyst error and decision-making; understand and interpret the results they receive; raise awareness of cognitive bias and improve objectivity; and increase consistency across agencies.” The GAO also calls for agencies to implement controls to better track what systems their employees are using.
While some of the U.S. government agencies have their own databases, the FBI’s database of faceprints is likely the most extensive, with some estimates at over 100 million faceprints. The U.S. government’s top law enforcement agency has been fighting to keep the database a secret since at least 2013.
Agencies have also used facial recognition databases from Amazon Rekognition, BI SmartLink, Giant Oak Social Technology, Clearview AI and Vigilant Solutions. By far, government agencies used technology from Clearview and Vigilant the most.