Feds say they are working to fix problems in the use of...

Feds say they are working to fix problems in the use of facial recognition technology

Representatives of federal law enforcement and safety agencies testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday June 4, 2019 (Screenshot from committee website)

WASHINGTON – Representatives of federal law enforcement and safety agencies told the House Oversight and Reform Committee Tuesday that they are working to refine their use of facial recognition technology to better protect civil rights and civil liberties.

“Law enforcement has performed photo lineups for decades. While this practice is not new, the efficiency of such searches has significantly improved using automated facial recognition,” said Kimberly Del Greco, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services.

She added: “The FBI’s policies and procedures emphasize that photo candidates returned are not to be considered positive identification, that the searches or photos only results in a ranked list of candidates.”

Charles Romine, director of the Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said the institute is coordinating with other agencies to improve accuracy.

“NIST is currently working with FBI and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] to analyze face recognition capabilities, including performance impacts due to image quality and demographics, and provide recommendations regarding match algorithms, optimal thresholds and match gallery creation,” he said.

Austin Gould, assistant administrator, Requirements and Capabilities Analysis at the Transportation Security Administration, said his agency will conduct more pilot projects at airports to test facial recognition technology.

“Looking ahead, TSA plans to build upon the success of past pilots by conducting additional ones at select locations and limited durations to refine requirements for biometric implementation at TSA checkpoints,” Gould said.

He added: “These pilots will be supported by privacy impact assessments, clearly identified through airport signage, and passengers will always have the opportunity to choose not to participate.”

The hearing is the committee’s second on the use of facial recognition technology in just two weeks. The first hearing examined how the technology has often had a disproportionately negative impact on African-American and other minority communities.

On the same day of that hearing, May 22, Amazon shareholders at their annual meeting voted down a non-binding proposal to end the sale of the company’s facial recognition software, Amazon Rekognition, to state and local governments.

In a letter to the shareholders two days before the meeting, the American Civil Liberties Union had urged them to support the proposal. The ACLU opposes the use of facial recognition technology, arguing that its typical uses for law enforcement and surveillance of public spaces can disproportionately affect people of color, immigrants and activists.

On May 14, San Francisco banned the use of facial recognition for city government purposes, becoming the first city in the nation to do so.

A 2016 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the “FBI has limited information on the accuracy of its face recognition technology capabilities.”

The report made six recommendations to improve transparency in the use of the technology.

Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) has asked 10 cities, including his native Baltimore, to provide the committee with information related to their use of facial recognition technology.

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