Dems demand GAO review of facial recognition technology for law enforcement use

Dems demand GAO review of facial recognition technology for law enforcement use
© Greg Nash

A group of Democrats in the House and Senate want the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to probe how law enforcement agencies have begun to use newly available facial recognition software.

In a letter, four senators, as well as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote that the federal government needs to study whether adequate oversight is being performed for public and private use of the technology.

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“Given the recent advances in commercial facial recognition technology — and its expanded use by state, local, and federal law enforcement, particularly the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — we ask that you investigate and evaluate the facial recognition industry and its government use,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter, signed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenMcCarthy urges Democrats to pull surveillance bill FISA 'reform': Groundhog Day edition Medicaid providers increasingly frustrated by delays in COVID-19 funding MORE (D-Ore.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerStakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Booker introduces bill to create 'DemocracyCorps' for elections MORE (D-N.J.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Gregory Treverton Congress must fill the leadership void MORE (D-Del.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: New documents show EPA rolled back mileage standards despite staff, WH concerns | Land management bureau grants 75 royalty rate cuts for oil and gas | EPA employees allege leadership interference with science in watchdog survey EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 Markey says EPA administrator should apologize to minorities for coronavirus response MORE (D-Mass.), asks the GAO to examine “whether commercial entities selling facial recognition adequately audit use of their technology to ensure that use is not unlawful, inconsistent with terms of service, or otherwise raise privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties concerns."

The lawmakers' letter to the GAO comes days after several other Democrats blasted tech giant Amazon over an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report that the company's facial recognition software had misidentified dozens of members of Congress and was significantly less accurate when used with persons of color.

"Serious concerns have been raised about the dangers facial recognition can pose to privacy and civil rights, especially when it is used as a tool of government surveillance, as well as the accuracy of the technology and its disproportionate impact on communities of color," Markey and three additional House Democrats wrote in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos last week.

Amazon representatives pushed back against the ACLU's description of the software's flaws in a statement, adding that the software is primarily used to help law enforcement prevent crime or find lost children.

“It is worth noting that in real-world scenarios, Amazon Rekognition is almost exclusively used to help narrow the field and allow humans to expeditiously review and consider options using their judgment (and not to make fully autonomous decisions), where it can help find lost children, restrict human trafficking, or prevent crimes,” an Amazon spokesperson said.