Law Enforcement Agencies Policing Americans With Facial Scans, And Civil Rights Groups Are Livid


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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor
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A coalition of more than 50 civil rights organizations are asking the Department of Justice (DoJ) to investigate law enforcement agencies’ use of facial recognition technology as a surveillance tactic.

“Face recognition technology is rapidly being interconnected with everyday police activities, impacting virtually every jurisdiction in America. Yet, the safeguards to ensure this technology is being used fairly and responsibly appear to be virtually nonexistent,” the coalition’s letter to the DoJ reads.

The civil rights groups worry that police departments that have already been accused of biased surveillance practices are using facial recognition technology (which provides metrics for the parameters of peoples’ faces) to unfairly target innocent people.

“16 states let the FBI use face recognition technology to compare the faces of suspected criminals to their driver’s license and ID photos, creating a virtual line-up of their state residents. In this line-up, it’s not a human that points to the suspect—it’s an algorithm” according to a report from The Georgetown Center on Privacy & Technology

The consortium of civil rights groups, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union, are using the study to make their case that police excessively use surveillance capabilities. They also claim that it disproportionately affects minorities because “African Americans and other people of color are also likely to be overrepresented in the mugshot databases.”

The coalition finds it troubling that there are no audits (both internally at each department and from superior agencies) of the police’s utilization of this biometric technology.

“The FBI has yet to conduct even one audit of its own face recognition systems, and continues to disclaim responsibility for assessing the accuracy of the partner state and federal systems that it uses on a daily basis. In other words, the FBI is leading by bad example, and many jurisdictions are following,” according to the the letter.

Along with the lack of audits, Georgetown researchers discovered that only one department of the 106 they studied had legislative approval for its use of facial recognition technology.

The Baltimore Police Department has been accused of using advanced technology for its law enforcement work and abusing its power. The officers use Stingrays — a device that acts as a cell tower and intercepts all calls in a certain area.

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