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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 WydenPlaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing House Democrats slam FCC chairman over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump MORE (D-Ore.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority MORE (D-N.J.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsBipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Schumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority MORE (D-Del.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOcasio-Cortez says having Green New Deal would have helped handle COVID-19 pandemic OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes 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.