WASHINGTON – At least 18 federal agencies reported using facial recognition technology (FRT) last year, and most said they plan to expand its use in the next few years, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). .
“It is becoming increasingly important to gain a deeper understanding of the use of facial recognition technology in all federal agencies,” said Candice Wright, director of the science, technology assessment and analytics team at GAO. “There have certainly been a lot of advances in facial recognition technology recently. It is increasingly being used for a variety of purposes in both the commercial and government sectors. “
The latest GAO report on the use of the technology said 24 federal agencies were interviewed and 18 reported using it for one or more purposes.
The most common use was digital access or cybersecurity, which is reported to be used by 16 of the authorities.
Among these, 14 said they use it to allow employees to unlock their agency-issued smartphones.
Domestic law enforcement was another common use, with six agencies including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Department of Defense (DOD) using FRT for this need.
“That purpose includes FRT, which can be used to identify a clue or person of interest for an investigation or to locate or identify a missing person or a crime victim,” the report said.
The report also states that some agencies are using it to match images with those on social media.
“DHS, DOJ, HHS and the Interior reported that they are using Clearview AI, a commercial facial recognition system that compares a submitted photo with a database of publicly available images from open sources such as social media and returns matching images for review,” the report said.
This leads to questions about privacy concerns.
“There is a risk that people who have not committed crimes and are not suspected of being subjected to facial recognition,” said Jake Weiner, Law Fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). “If there is to be access to this technology, the government needs a really robust way of tracking it and restricting it to a reasonable purpose.”
EPIC also points out concerns about accuracy, especially when identifying women of color.
“There are accuracy issues that raise privacy concerns,” Weiner said. “We have seen countless stories of facial recognition abuse. It is used to identify protesters and is used by law enforcement agencies to help companies identify people. “
According to the report, ten agencies also reported using FRT for research and development, including research into the FRT’s ability to identify people wearing masks during the pandemic.
GAO said its work on investigating the use of FRT by government agencies is ongoing.
“There is probably a need to better understand how government agencies monitor the use of the data they collect, who can access the data they share, and how that data is shared,” Wright said.
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