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 WydenRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill McSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign Graham: Trump has 'all the legal authority in the world' to pardon Stone MORE (D-Ore.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dem anxiety grows ahead of Super Tuesday House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge MORE (D-N.J.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Graham warned Pentagon chief about consequences of Africa policy: report Democrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump MORE (D-Del.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyKennedy, Markey neck-and-neck in Massachusetts primary: poll Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development 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.