Federal agencies planning to expand use of facial recognition


At least 10 federal agencies are planning to expand their use of facial recognition technology in the next few years, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released earlier this week.

The departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Interior, Justice, State, Treasury and Veterans Affairs all told the watchdog that they will grow their capabilities by 2023.

The GAO surveyed 24 agencies overall about their use of the controversial technology, finding that most of them use it for things like allowing employees to unlock agency smartphones or enter buildings.

Six agencies reported using facial recognition for generating leads or identifying victims in criminal investigations.

The report comes amid rising scrutiny of the technology that is still unregulated at the federal level.

Researchers — most notably MIT’s Joy Buolamwini and Deborah Raji — have found that facial recognition is consistently biased against people of color and women.

That finding has been buttressed by a National Institute of Standards and Technology study from 2019 that found the majority of facial recognition systems on the market have “demographic differentials” that can worsen their accuracy based on a person’s age, gender or race. 

At least three Black men have been incorrectly arrested based on facial recognition matches in the last few years and all of them are challenging those arrests in court. 

Several privacy advocates have raised concerns that even if facial recognition can be made accurate, it still constitutes an overreach of state and law enforcement surveillance power.

Three states and more than a dozen cities have stepped in to ban or restrict the use of facial recognition while the federal government has stalled on regulations.

Tags Commerce Defense facial recognition technology GAO Government agencies HHS

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