People walking on a street. Their faces are blurred and facial recognition technology is being used on them.

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Government report finds 20 different agencies use facial recognition

The report found that 10 agencies used Clearview AI.


Andrew Wyrich


Posted on Jun 29, 2021   Updated on Jun 29, 2021, 1:29 pm CDT

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 20 federal agencies either own or use facial recognition technology.

The GAO report, which was published on Tuesday, surveyed a total of 42 agencies and found that three federal agencies owned a facial recognition technology system: the Department of Veterans Affairs Police Service, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Office of Protective Services.

Twelve agencies used another entity’s facial recognition system, including agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Capitol Police, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S Postal Inspection Service.

Finally, the report noted that five agencies owned a facial recognition system and also used another entity’s system: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The GAO’s report comes as facial recognition technology, particularly its use by the government and law enforcement, has faced immense scrutiny.

Facial recognition technology has been found to have a racial bias, and calls for its use by the government to be banned grew louder during Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and racism last year.

Six agencies told the GAO they used facial recognition amid the Black Lives Matter protests last year.

However, all 14 agencies that reported using facial recognition during criminal investigations also said they used systems owned by non-federal entities. All but one agency, the report said, reported that they knew what non-federal systems were being used by their employees.

The GAO recommended to the agencies that they “implement a mechanism to track what non-federal systems are used by employees, and assess the risks of using these systems.”

Additionally, the GAO report notes that 10 agencies—including CBP, ATF, ICE, the U.S. Postal Service, FBI, and Secret Service—use Clearview AI, the controversial facial recognition start-up that scraped millions of people’s photos off the internet without their knowledge.

Earlier this month, a group of lawmakers from both the Senate and House of Representatives re-introduced a bill, the “Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act,” which would ban the use of facial recognition technology by the federal government until an act of Congress lifted a moratorium.

Meanwhile, shortly after President Joe Biden was inaugurated, a coalition of civil rights groups urged the president to ban the government’s use of the technology and support the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act.

While there has been little movement at the federal level, many cities have taken action. King County in Washington became the first county in the country to ban facial recognition, following many cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Boston, and Minneapolis who had already done so.

You can read all of the GAO report here.

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*First Published: Jun 29, 2021, 12:43 pm CDT