A government inquiry into federal agencies’ deployment of facial recognition may have overlooked some organizations’ use of popular biometric identification software Clearview AI, calling into question whether authorities can understand the extent to which the emerging technology has been used by taxpayer-funded entities. In a 92-page report published by the Government Accountability Office on Tuesday, five agencies — the US Capitol Police, the US Probation Office, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, Transportation Security Administration, and the Criminal Investigation Division at the Internal Revenue Service — said they didn’t use Clearview AI between April 2018 and March 2020. This, however, contradicts internal Clearview data previously reviewed by BuzzFeed News.
In April, BuzzFeed News revealed that those five agencies were among more than 1,800 US taxpayer-funded entities that had employees who tried or used Clearview AI, based on internal company data. As part of that story, BuzzFeed News published a searchable table disclosing all the federal, state, and city government organizations whose employees are listed in the data as having used the facial recognition software as of February 2020. While the GAO was tasked with “review[ing] federal law enforcement use of facial recognition technology,” the discrepancies between the report, which was based on survey responses and BuzzFeed News’ past reporting, suggest that even the US government may not be equipped to track how its own agencies access to surveillance tools like Clearview. The GAO report surveyed 42 federal agencies in total, 20 of which reported that they either owned their own facial recognition system or used one developed by a third party between April 2018 and March 2020. Ten federal agencies — including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection — said they specifically used Clearview AI.