US federal agencies sued for facial recognition deployment info as UK Commissioner calls for police use rules

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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit to obtain records relating to their use of biometric facial recognition from the U.S. Justice Department, Drug Enforcement Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigations, The Washington Post reports.

In a filing in Massachusetts federal court, the ACLU alleges that the agencies have quietly implemented surveillance technology across the country.

The suit is connected to a request issued by the ACLU in January of this year, seeking “Policy directives, guidance documents, legal memoranda, policy memoranda, and training materials concerning the use of face recognition, gait recognition, or voice recognition technology.” The advocacy group also sought agreements, MOAs and MOUs, records of communication with companies, including purchase orders, as well as audits and search records. The ACLU says the DOJ has not responded. The FBI and DEA have both acknowledged receiving the request, but not responded further.

A blog post by ACLU Director Kade Crockford refers to the FBI’s “unresolved history of anti-Black racism” and the scandalous tenure of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The group alleges similar politicized monitoring of civil society groups, and notes that an agency representative recently told Congress that it can use facial recognition surveillance without the need to show probably cause.

The FBI has 640 million facial photos in its database, according to the ACLU.

The blog post also suggests the technology does not work, citing studies related to gender classification and emotion attribution.

UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has published an report calling for a new statutory code governing police deployments of facial recognition cameras in public, The Telegraph reports.

The opinion will provide a blueprint for the new code, according to The Telegraph, and says the technology should only be deployed where a “demonstrable benefit” can be shown, such as locating and convicting a dangerous criminal. Denham also recommends restrictions on the police biometrics database, such as the immediate deletion of all images of all people not being charged with a crime.

The 37-page report and 24-page opinion are the result of an investigation by the commissioner, following increasing use of the facial biometrics technology, and the emergence of evidence The Telegraph reports indicates that police have shared data with private sector firms, such as the operators of the King’s Cross development in London.

“Live facial recognition (LFR) is a step change in policing techniques; never before have we seen technologies with the potential for such widespread invasiveness,” Denham writes in a blog post on the report. “The results of [my] investigation raise serious concerns about the use of a technology that relies on huge amounts of sensitive personal information.

“We found that the current combination of laws, codes and practices relating to LFR will not drive the ethical and legal approach that’s needed to truly manage the risk that this technology presents.

“The absence of a statutory code that speaks to the specific challenges posed by LFR will increase the likelihood of legal failures and undermine public confidence in its use. As a result, the key recommendation arising from the ICO’s investigation is to call for government to introduce a statutory and binding code of practice on the deployment of LFR. This is necessary in order to give the police and the public enough knowledge as to when and how the police can use LFR systems in public spaces.”

The report and opinion are both available from the ICO blog post.

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