Constitutional rights group recommends laws limiting facial biometrics use by U.S. law enforcement

The Project on Government Oversight’s (POGO’s) Constitution Project has released a report on the potential impact of law enforcement using facial recognition technology on civil rights and liberties, in conjunction with POGO’s Task Force on Surveillance.

According to the “Facing the Future of Surveillance” report, use of facial recognition by law enforcement is already significant and is increasing, raising several constitutional concerns, and perhaps leading to the end of anonymity for Americans if policymakers fail to swiftly limit it. Identified photos of roughly half of Americans are stored in law enforcement databases, POGO says.

“Facial recognition technology is becoming more advanced, more available, and more sought-after by law enforcement at every level. But like many new technologies, facial recognition surveillance is dramatically outpacing common-sense rules to limit their potentially disastrous effects,” says The Constitution Project at POGO’s Senior Counsel Jake Laperruque, the principal author of the report. “Our government must act now to protect Americans from this widespread, invasive, and often-inaccurate surveillance technology, and uphold our Constitutional rights to privacy, anonymity, free speech, and equal protection.”

The Task Force on Surveillance is made up of ten individuals with special expertise in the field, including current and former law enforcement officials, and experts on privacy, civil liberties, and technology.

The report considers four distinct uses of facial biometrics by law enforcement; arrest identification, field identification, investigative identification, and real-time surveillance. It identifies privacy and fourth amendment protections, prevalence of misidentification, equal protection and civil rights, and freedom of expression and association, which relates largely to freedoms guaranteed by the first amendment, as well as due process and procedural rights and transparency and accountability as areas of concern.

Finally, the report makes nine recommendations, including requiring judicial authorization for identification with facial recognition and to catalog an individual’s activities, limiting real-time technology use to emergency situations, requiring independent verification of automated matches, a moratorium on real-time facial recognition in body cameras, the establishment of standards for transparency and testing, and rules for sharing data between government agencies.

U.S. lawmakers are considering how to move forward on the issue, and the UK government has struggled with how to deploy facial recognition in a responsible and ethical way. Microsoft and Amazon, meanwhile, have each suggested that legal limits to facial biometrics are necessary, though with some disagreement on specifics.

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