Congress is debating how to govern police use of facial recognition technology as software to scan databases or find people in crowds becomes more prevalent among law enforcement agencies federal, state and local across the country.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say booming technology raises serious issues of free speech, due process, and search and seizure.
A former U.S. lawyer from Utah told a Congressional subcommittee on Tuesday that there was a lack of transparency, accountability and basic information about how police use technology, outside of ” vague assurances “that people should trust the government to use technology safely.
“Many of the fundamental questions that you probably want – and deserve – answered are currently unanswered. Questions such as: How many law enforcement entities use facial recognition? How often do they use it? Who is in their databases and why? Brett Tolman told the House Judiciary Committee’s Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security subcommittee.
Tolman, executive director of the conservative organization Right on Crime, called what is known about the use of technology “intimidating.”
A recent government accountability report found that in addition to the FBI, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Internal Revenue Service are among 20 federal agencies that use the software. One estimate placed the government market for facial recognition technology in the United States at $ 136.9 million in 2018, with the expectation that it would almost triple by 2025, he said.
Another estimate suggests that in 2016, at least 1 in 4 police departments had the ability to perform facial recognition searches, a number that Tolman says has certainly increased since then.
The Utah Legislature passed a bill earlier this year requiring government entities that use someone’s photo in conjunction with facial recognition technology to notify that person how it could be used. .
The law requires police to submit a written request to perform a facial recognition comparison that includes a statement about the specific crime being investigated. Government employees can only comply with requests for criminal investigations, violent crimes or threats to human life, or to identify a deceased, incapacitated or in danger.
Motor vehicle departments in at least 20 states have turned over the driver’s license data to the FBI, said Representative Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the highest-ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
“No American citizen has consented to have their data and images transmitted to the FBI. No elected official has ever voted for this to happen,” he said.
In addition to relying on images secured by the criminal justice system, the government collects millions of driver’s license and passport photos, Tolman said. Private tech companies that contract with the police have harvested billions of photos posted on platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and even Venmo.
“This collection is an unprecedented invasion of privacy that places enormous and undue control in the hands of government and Big Tech, two entities not always known for their light weight or responsible use of power,” he said. declared.
The issue grabbed headlines in 2019 when national and local media reported on the long-standing practice of making a database of Utah driver’s license photos available without a warrant, including those of minors, federal and local law enforcement agencies to conduct dragnet-type research. using advanced facial recognition software.
“There is a tension that we need to sort out,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, DN.Y ..
“On the one hand, this technology is now a common element in our lives,” he said. “On the other hand, most Americans misunderstand how police use facial recognition technologies to monitor communities across the country, for better or for worse.”
There are several “troubling” reports of how police misapplied technology when trying to match women and people of color, he said. Adoption of the program must not further erode trust between citizens and the police or have a disproportionate impact on people of color, Nadler said.
Tolman said going out in the morning can be an exercise in switching from camera to camera, from the convenience store around the corner to the traffic camera in front of her. In addition to “passive perpetual” surveillance, police can potentially add recordings from body-worn cameras or smartphones to an officer’s pocket.
“In short, there are very few cases where the police do not have the ability to subject a person of interest to facial recognition technology, ”he said.
Despite his reservations about the practice, Tolman said he was not saying law enforcement should never have access to technology. He said it was unrealistic to expect the police to deprive themselves of a tool that is increasingly popular in the commercial sector and has a powerful ability to improve public safety.
“However, recognizing that there are credible uses for facial recognition technology and expressing support for law enforcement is not the same as writing a blank check for power and then looking at it. ‘other side,’ he said.
Committee member Representative Burgess Owens, R-Utah, said society cannot rely on technology to deal with the increase in crime. He said it is a tool to support human relationships.
“We cannot continue to belittle and disrespect the good men and women who police in our communities and expect technology to compensate for that,” he said.