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10 US Government Agencies Plan Expanded Use of Facial Recognition

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. government “plans to expand its use of facial recognition to pursue criminals and scan for threats, an internal survey has found, even as concerns grow about the technology’s potential for contributing to improper surveillance and false arrests.”
Ten federal agencies — the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Interior, Justice, State, Treasury and Veterans Affairs — told the Government Accountability Office they intend to grow their facial recognition capabilities by 2023, the GAO said in a report posted to its website Tuesday. Most of the agencies use face-scanning technology so employees can unlock their phones and laptops or access buildings, though a growing number said they are using the software to track people and investigate crime. The Department of Agriculture, for instance, said it wants to use it to monitor live surveillance feeds at its facilities and send an alert if it spots any faces also found on a watch list…

The GAO said in June that 20 federal agencies have used either internally developed or privately run facial recognition software, even though 13 of those agencies said they did not “have awareness” of which private systems they used and had therefore “not fully assessed the potential risks … to privacy and accuracy.” In the current report, the GAO said several agencies, including the Justice Department, the Air Force and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, reported that they had used facial recognition software from Clearview AI, a firm that has faced lawsuits from privacy groups and legal demands from Google and Facebook after it copied billions of facial images from social media without their approval… Many federal agencies said they used the software by requesting that officials in state and local governments run searches on their own software and report the results. Many searches were routed through a nationwide network of “fusion centers,” which local police and federal investigators use to share information on potential threats or terrorist attacks…

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, who have called the technology “the way of the future,” said earlier this month that they had run facial recognition scans on more than 88 million travelers at airports, cruise ports and border crossings. The systems, the officials said, have detected 850 impostors since 2018 — or about 1 in every 103,000 faces scanned.