Government privacy watchdog under pressure to recommend facial recognition ban

Government privacy watchdog under pressure to recommend facial recognition ban
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The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), an independent agency, is coming under increasing pressure to recommend the federal government stop using facial recognition.

Forty groups, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, sent a letter Monday to the agency calling for the suspension of facial recognition systems "pending further review."

“The rapid and unregulated deployment of facial recognition poses a direct threat to ‘the precious liberties that are vital to our way of life,'" the advocacy groups wrote.


The PCLOB "has a unique responsibility, set out in statute, to assess technologies and polices that impact the privacy of Americans after 9-11 and to make recommendations to the President and executive branch," they wrote.

The agency, created in 2004, advises the administration on privacy issues.

The letter cited a recent New York Times report about Clearview AI, a company which claims to have a database of more than 3 billion photos and is reportedly collaborating with hundreds of police departments.

It also mentioned a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, part of the Commerce Department, which found that the majority of facial recognition systems have “demographic differentials” that can worsen their accuracy based on a person’s age, gender or race.

The PCLOB did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

While several cities and municipalities have restricted the use of facial recognition by government officials and police, there is no federal law specifying when, how or where facial recognition technology can be used.


Several bills have been introduced, addressing the technology's use by police and public housing administrators, but no legislation has advanced through Congress.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on facial recognition earlier this month, when lawmakers on both sides of the aisle suggested some version of a freeze on the technology.

“It really is not ready for primetime — it can be used in positive ways … but also severely impacts the civil liberties and rights of individuals," Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyGun control group rolls out House endorsements Overnight Defense: Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns | Plan would reportedly bring troops in Afghanistan back by Election Day | Third service member dies from COVID-19 Business groups throw support behind House Democrat's bill to provide pandemic risk insurance MORE (D-N.Y.) said at the hearing.

"While we're trying to figure out ... what's all happening, let's just not expand it," said ranking member Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate MORE (R-Ohio), later telling reporters that legislation was being drafted to gather information on the use of facial recognition and pause the practice while doing so.