US federal agencies plan to increase facial recognition use, GAO report says
Three-quarters of U.S. federal agencies surveyed for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report are already using facial recognition and more than 40 percent plan to use more of the technology by 2023. Multiple agencies use commercial partners such as Clearview AI, typically beginning with free trials. See below for a full list of commercial partnerships mentioned in the report.
Recent announcements on biometrics contracts awarded and up for tender confirm the interest agencies have expressed in increasing their use of such technologies and survey findings reveal upcoming deals with Idemia, Veritone and Clearview AI.
Usage spanned law enforcement to staff unlocking work smartphones. Eighteen of the 24 agencies surveyed used facial recognition technology (FRT) in 2020 and a nineteenth, the Department of Transportation, also dealt with the technologies via research. Digital access was the most common usage with 16 agencies claiming application for digital access or cybersecurity, of which 14 agencies authorized staff to use FRT to unlock their agency-issued smartphones.
Six agencies used FRT in criminal investigations or to identify victims; five used it for surveilling locations for individuals on watchlists. Ten including the Department of Justice used FRT-related research and development. Four used the technologies for national security and defence and five for physical security such as accessing buildings. Two agencies are testing face biometric verification to log in to certain government web services.
This is the latest in a series of reports into federal agency use of biometric technologies. Requested by Congress, the 90-page report – ‘Facial Recognition Technology: Current and Planned Uses by Federal Agencies’ — is based on a survey of 24 agencies intended to understand how such federal agencies used facial recognition technology in the fiscal year 2020 or developed such technologies, and how they plan to use it up to the end of fiscal year (30 September) 2023.
Ten agencies including the Departments of Defense, State and Justice plan increased use of FRT by 2023, all with new FRT ventures plus evaluations and upgrades.
All 24 agencies surveyed – including Departments of Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, State and Social Security Administration – responded, answering questions on their FRT research, how they regulated the use of FRT by non-federal entities and their plans, which only Homeland Security reported to be involved with.
Clearview AI, AnyVision, Vigilant – opportunities for private sector
The majority of systems used by federal agencies are owned federally, even if developed by a commercial partner. The report also details where federal agencies access commercial products and plans for future partnerships.
Four agencies reported using Clearview AI services for domestic law enforcement: the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Health and Human Services and the Interior. They used the service to compare photographs with Clearview’s controversial database of more than three billion images of people scraped from social media profiles.
Health and Human Services and Interior themselves reported their uses of Clearview were on free trials. Yet sub-departments such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moved from a free trial of Clearview AI in May 2020 to a subscription the following month.
DHS reported it has free limited access to Vigilant Solutions.
HHS reported its National Institutes of Health awarded grants to research eye tracking as a tool for clinical research such as characterizing where children with and without autism look while following conversations in video.
Two agencies also reported they plan to access Clearview AI for the first time and Department of Defense plans and additional use of Clearview AI via the U.S. Air Force. It intends to collect facial images with mobile biometric devices including phones to compare against Clearview’s database. The Interior’s U.S. Park Police stopped using Clearview in June 2020.
The Secret Service has not yet made a decision to purchase Clearview AI services after a pilot in April 2019.
Facial recognition R&D spending
The Department of Commerce spent approximately $500,000 in 2020 for biometrics research and standards work at NIST including its Face Recognition Vendor Test program. The Department of Justice spent $1.56 million in 2020 on biometrics R&D including working with NIST on face image quality, algorithm benchmarking, and with the West Virginia Research Corporation on the relationship between skin tone and false match rates in facial recognition algorithms.
A “Gang Intelligence Application” is under development: “The DHS awarded a contract to the Lehigh County, Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Office to enhance the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigation’s future access to the Gang Intelligence Application. DHS reported spending about $200,000 on the application in fiscal year 2020.”
The U.S. Marshals Service plans to develop its own software for touchless prisoner identity verification such as during transport and searching for a match against a prisoner booking. The plan is for a mobile application but its use has been delayed as the bid was protested. Until 2022, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is using FRT to control access on site.
New contracts roll in from federal agencies
A flurry of examples of the expansion of federal agencies’ use of biometrics have already emerged. The U.S. Army is working with Identity Strategy Partners and Tascent for Department of Defense personnel access to facilities using facial recognition.
Clearview AI has is reported to be selling discounted subscriptions to a criminal intelligence branch of the U.S. military. InCadence has recently been awarded a 10-year, $47 million contract to provide mobile biometrics to the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Identity Assurance System (DSIAS).
Details of an iris recognition service the FBI has been running have just emerged. Douglas Sprouse, a management and program analyst with the bureau’s Biometric Services Section revealed the program’s progress when speaking at the 2021 Federal Identity Forum and Expo, reports AFCEA.
For almost a year, the Next Generation Identification, as the iris-print service is known, has been running at full-scale receiving iris biometrics from four states with others preparing to participate. Other speakers brought details on the addition of palm prints to NGI and the Rap Back service which alerts state and federal agencies about information on individuals whose fingerprints have been submitted. The National Palm Print System was also noted to have grown to more than 50 million images equating to over 24 million unique identities.
The Department of Defense is expected to open a tender to run the next stage of its biometric database which will transition to the cloud and acquire new capabilities, reports Defense Daily.
The Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Biometric Enabling Capability (BEC) Increment 1 to the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) will include storage and matching of facial images, DNA, fingerprints, irises, palm prints, latent prints, voice and multi-modal biometric fusion matching capabilities.
The system is currently managed by Leidos and uses Idemia’s Multi-Biometric Search Services matching engine, reports Defense Daily, which includes algorithms for fingerprint and palm print identification, iris and facial recognition.
A previous report by GAO recently found a lax oversight of the use of biometrics for law enforcement by some federal agencies.
Use of commercial partners, present and planned
At a glance, here is a roundup of the use of commercial firms in federal agency projects covered in the GAO report. The ‘Planned’ list contains the proposed plans with commercial companies to develop solutions by the end of the fiscal year 2023. The ‘In Use’ list contains the projects already underway in 2020 with commercial firms. ‘FO’ denotes FRT projects that are federally owned. ‘CO’ denotes commercially-owned tools or databases accessed by federal agencies.
FO – The Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to use the Idemia VisionPass in fiscal year 2022 for facility access.
FO – USDA plans to use Avigilon Control Center FRT to accelerate watchlist usage in 2022 if funding is approved.
CO – Department of Defense: U.S. Air Force plans to use Clearview AI to collect facial images with mobile devices to compare against Clearview AI database following June 2020 pilot.
FO – The Health and Human Service’s Office of the Inspector General plans to use Vintra to search surveillance video for defined actions such as directional movement vehicles or people.
CO – Department of the Interior plans to use Clearview AI in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, began a subscription in June 2020.
FO – The Department of Veteran Affairs plans to use Motorola Avigilon with the VA Police Service Chicago to sort through video to quickly find a missing person and create a watchlist alert system for the VA medical center campus. The VA Police Service West Palm Beach plans to use Veritone AIWare web-based FRT to “detect and follow selected, moving objects, such as a previously disruptive individual or to track missing patients, and will alert officers when on the VA medical center campus.”
In use in 2020
CO – The Department of Commerce used StoneLock infrared facial recognition devices provided in partnership with TYCO to control access to a secure data center as part of three-factor authentication. Disused after 2020.
The Department of Defense: FO – U.S. Navy uses Secure Planet’s TacID Guard Dog for monitoring camera feeds of people seeking to enter DOD facilities at a cost of $100,000.
FO – The Pentagon Force Protection Agency uses M. C. Dean access control devices for access, also used by U.S. Army.
FO – U.S. Air Force uses InCadence Ares Javelin+ biometrics software on mobile devices to collect images and submit to the DOD’s Automated Biometric Identification System
FO – Department of Energy uses Secure Planet TacID Guard Dog.
FO – Health and Human Services used AnyVision for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for real time facial matching from security cameras. FO – Office of the Inspector General (OIG) uses Griffeye Digital Investigate Pro for video analysis in investigations involving child exploitation and sexual assault. CO – the OIG also uses Clearview AI in criminal investigations.
CO – Department of Homeland Security uses Clearview AI to identify individuals of interest in state, federal and international databases. CO – DHS uses Vigilant Solutions to identify individuals involved in crimes.
CO – Department of the Interior used Clearview AI in the U.S. Park Police, stopped in June 2020.
Department of Justice: FO – The FBI is testing Horus from federal government innovation arm Noblis to determine whether it can improve accuracy of comparison processes. FO – The FBI is testing Rank One for determining if it can improve comparison accuracy. FO – The U.S. Marshals service uses Axon Facial Detection to review footage from bodycams for face detection. A human then selects/deselects for redaction. CO – the DOJ uses Clearview AI in criminal investigations. CO – the DOJ uses Vigilant Solutions to identify individuals involved in a crime.
CO – Social Security Administration piloted Acuant FaceID for verifying staff for accessing online services.