GAO: US Govt Expanding Use of Facial Recognition Technology

Despite states moving to restrict the use of facial recognition technology (FRT) amid privacy concerns, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported 10 federal agencies are ramping up the use of the technology.

“Even with all the privacy issues and accuracy problems, the government is pretty much saying, ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,'” Project on Government Oversight’s Jake Laperruque told The Washington Post.

Amazon has stopped selling its facial recognition product to U.S. police, while Virginia, Massachusetts, and Maine have restricted the use of FRT, along with more than a dozen cities including San Francisco, Boston and Portland, according to the Post.

Laperruque noted law enforcement use presents “a really big surveillance threat that only Congress can solve.”

Short of congressional action, the GAO report found 10 federal agencies, from the departments of Agriculture to Veterans Affairs, plan to expand the use of face-scanning technology by 2023.

The GAO surveyed 24 federal agencies about FRT, finding:

  • 16 use it for digital access or cybersecurity.

“Of these, 14 agencies authorized personnel to use FRT to unlock their agency-issued smartphones — the most common purpose of FRT reported. Two agencies also reported testing FRT to verify identities of persons accessing government websites.”

  • 6 use it in criminal investigations:

“Six agencies reported using FRT to generate leads in criminal investigations, such as identifying a person of interest, by comparing their image against mugshots. In some cases, agencies identify crime victims, such as exploited children, by using commercial systems that compare against publicly available images, such as from social media.”

  • 5 use it for physical security, such as access to a building or facility:

“Five agencies reported using FRT to monitor or surveil locations to determine if an individual is present, such as someone on a watchlist, or to control access to a building or facility. For example, an agency used it to monitor live video for persons on watchlists and to alert security personnel to these persons without needing to memorize them.”

  • 10 said they planned to expand its use:

“Ten agencies reported FRT-related research and development. For example, agencies reported researching FRT’s ability to identify individuals wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and to detect image manipulation,” the GAO report wrote in a highlights section of its report.

“Furthermore, ten agencies reported plans to expand their use of FRT through fiscal year 2023. For example, an agency plans to pilot the use of FRT to automate the identity verification process at airports for travelers.”

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