EFF: The Federal Government Just Can’t Get Enough of Your Face

The Federal Government Just Can’t Get Enough of Your Face

There are more federal facial recognition technology (FRT) systems than there are federal agencies using them, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office. Its latest report on current and planned use of FRT by federal agencies reveals that, among the 24 agencies surveyed, there are 27 federal FRT systems. Just three agencies—the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and Justice—use 18 of these systems for, as they put it, domestic law enforcement and national security purposes.

But 27 current federal systems are not enough to satisfy these agencies. The DOJ, DHS, and Department of the Interior also accessed FRT systems “owned by 29 states and seven localities for law enforcement purposes.” Federal agencies further accessed eight commercial FRT systems, including four agencies that accessed the infamous Clearview AI. That’s all just current use. Across federal agencies, there are plans in the next two years to develop or purchase 13 more FRT systems, access two more local systems, and enter two more contracts with Clearview AI.

As EFF has pointed out again and again, government use of FRT is anathema to our fundamental freedoms. Law enforcement use of FRT disproportionately impacts people of color, turns us all into perpetual suspects, and increases the likelihood of false arrest. Law enforcement agencies have also used FRT to spy on protestors.

Clearview AI, a commercial facial surveillance entity used by many federal agencies, extracts the faceprints of billions of unsuspecting people, without their consent, and uses them to provide information to law enforcement and federal agencies. They are currently being sued in both Illinois state court and federal court for violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). Illinois' BIPA requires opt-in consent to obtain someone’s faceprint. Recently, an Illinois state judge allowed the state case to proceed, opening a path for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)  to fight against Clearview AI’s business model, which trades in your privacy for their profit. You can read the opinion of the judge here, and find EFF’s two amicus briefs against Clearview AI here and here

FRT in the hands of the government erodes the rights of the people. Even so, the federal government’s appetite for your face—through one of their 27 systems or commercial systems such as Clearview AI—is insatiable. Regulation is not sufficient here; the only effective solution to this pervasive problem is a ban on the federal use of FRT. Cities across the country from San Francisco, to Minneapolis, to Boston, have already passed strong local ordinances to do so.

Now we must go to Congress. EFF supports Senator Markey’s Facial Recognition and Biometrics Technology Moratorium Act, which would ban the federal government’s use of FRT and some other biometric technologies. Join our campaign and contact your members of Congress  and tell them to support this ban. The government can’t get enough of your face. Tell them they can’t have it.

Take Action

Tell Congress to Ban Federal Use of Face Recognition

You can find the GAO’s Report here


Published September 16, 2021 at 12:52AM
Read more on eff.org

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