By Aaron Kesel
The ACLU has sued the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other federal agencies, making claims that the government is improperly withholding information on how it uses a facial recognition database on millions of Americans. The civil rights organization also asks for a "federal court to intervene and order the FBI and related agencies to turn over all records concerning their use of face recognition technology," according to a legal document.
"Because of the FBI's secrecy, little is known about how the agency is supercharging its surveillance activities with face recognition technology," Kade Crockford of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a post on its website.
The public has a right to know when, where, and how law enforcement agencies are using face recognition technology, and what safeguards, if any, are in place to protect our rights.
The ACLU lawsuit names the FBI, Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration, alleging the agencies "failed to produce any responsive documents" in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Activist Post has previously reported that the FBI has millions of photographs it can rummage through by utilizing facial recognition technology.
The FBI is using technology called the Interstate Photo System to identify potential suspects and a watchdog organization the Government Accountability Office (GAO) claimed that the agency has access to 640 million photographs which includes drivers’ licenses, passports, and mugshots.
The GAO made the shocking claim under Gretta Goodwin, during the bipartisan Congressional hearing on facial recognition technology, Associated Press reported.
“Lawmakers must put the brakes on law enforcement use of this technology until Congress decides what, if any, use cases are permissible,” said Neema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) echoed the organization’s stance.
The same government watchdog previously stated that the FBI was failing to moderate its use of facial recognition software and its system was inaccurate, as Activist Post reported.
This comes as the Bureau increases its use of the technology, currently trialing Amazon’s Facial Rekognition software, which has had its accuracy questioned numerous times in the past. One of those times included testing by the ACLU which discovered that Amazon’s software falsely identified 28 black members of Congress as criminals. Most recently, it falsely identified 27 pro athletes as criminals.
In 2018 it was reported that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies were using this same Amazon Facial Rekognition technology to sift through surveillance data.
The FBI isn’t the only agency having trouble with facial recognition software; an audit report last year detailed the TSA received a “biometric confirmation” rate of 85% for testing purposes at airports. While it’s reported that another agency ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is considering implementing Amazon’s controversial software, despite using Palantir's software.
Recently, Activist Post reported that U.S. Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass. called for halting facial recognition technologies in airports and warned against moving forward without sufficient protections for data being collected, during a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Security on the use of biometric tech.
Amazon employees who are against the company selling facial recognition technology to the government have protested the company’s decision.
Over 20 groups of shareholders have sent several letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos urging him to stop selling the company’s face recognition software to law enforcement.
One letter was sent in June of last year signed by 20 groups of Amazon shareholders sent to Bezos, urging him to stop selling the company’s face recognition software to law enforcement.
“We are concerned the technology would be used to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations,” the shareholders, which reportedly include Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, wrote. “We are concerned sales may be expanded to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes.”
Another letter was sent in January 2019, organized by Open Mic, a nonprofit organization focused on corporate accountability, and was filed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood both letters warned the technology poses “potential civil and human rights risks.”
Numerous civil rights organizations have also co-signed a letter demanding Amazon stop assisting government surveillance; and several members of Congress have expressed concerns about the partnerships.
Meanwhile, facial recognition technology is being pushed as a new means for an A.I. police state without human involvement — a frightening thought to say the least. Defense One reports that “AI-Enabled Cameras That Detect Crime Before it Occurs Will Soon Invade the Physical World” are in the works and on display at ISC West, a recent security technology conference in Las Vegas.
Despite Amazon being under fire for its sale of facial recognition technology to police, the company is now seeking to lobby an effort for regulation in Washington and write its own laws, as Activist Post reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union responded and said it was a “welcome sign” that Amazon recognizes the dangers of facial recognition, but said the tech giant needs to quit handing its technology Ring and Facial Rekognition out to police if it truly cares about privacy.
“If Amazon is really interested in preventing these dangers, the first thing it should do is stop pushing surveillance tools into our communities without regard for the impact,” the ACLU’s senior legislative counsel, Neema Singh Guliani, said. “Lawmakers should be skeptical of weak industry proposals that sacrifice individuals rights in the interest of profit.”
Activist Post recommended book: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism
Earlier this year, legislators called for putting a “time out” on facial recognition technology until regulations are in place. So far, Congress has held two oversight hearings on the topic and there are at least four bills in the works to limit the technology.
On top of that, some cities in the U.S. have outright banned the biometric technology like San Francisco, Somerville, Massachusetts, and Oakland, California, as Activist Post reported.
The whole state of California just last month followed the city of Oakland and passed a law barring law enforcement from using facial recognition cameras for three years, although most privacy rights activist think this should likely be indefinite.
The rapid growth of this technology has triggered a much-needed debate to slow down the roll out. Activists, politicians, academics and even police forces all over the world are expressing serious concerns over the impact facial recognition could have on our society.
The FBI recently claimed to Congress agents don't need to demonstrate probable cause of criminal activity before using its face surveillance technology on us. That statement says volumes on why facial recognition technology should be outright banned. We don't want to create a facial recognition database and live in a world worse than George Orwell's 1984 or The Minority Report.
Fight For The Future, an activism organization against facial recognition technology, has previously launched a first-of-its-kind interactive map that tracks where in the U.S. facial recognition technology is being used and where it is being resisted, along with a tool-kit for local activists who want to help kickstart a ban in their city or state, as Activist Post reported.
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