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Another earful for White House on DHS biometrics, states on surveillance


Development of biometric surveillance systems by U.S. government agencies at different levels continues to intensify, as do the protests of civil rights and immigration organizations.

Three actions by skeptics of digital surveillance in general and facial recognition in particular came to light this week.

According to non-profit privacy advocate Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, 55 civil rights groups want government agencies to investigate how vendors are performing AI audio surveillance in jails and prisons.

Oversight project’s officials, along with prison reform outfit Worth Rises, are leading the charge. They have sent letters to various politicians, including U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and state officials, to end AI analysis and recording of prisoners’ private telephone conversations.

Privileged attorney-client communications are illegally being listened to, according to the oversight project. So are conversations between family, the organization claims.

At the same time, Amnesty International officials say facial recognition surveillance in New York City is more dense in neighborhoods of color in the boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Surveillance is highest in neighborhoods being subject to stop-and-frisk patrols, claims Amnesty. The announcement is part of the non-profit’s Ban the Scan campaign, which seeks significant curbs on the use of face biometrics.

Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter Paterson (N.J.) executives said this week that they “unequivocally reject” facial recognition surveillance in their city. It is biased. Further, expanding surveillance powers with facial recognition without adequate accountability will lead to more abuses of power, the group argues.

Finally, the White House is getting an earful from privacy advocates demanding more controls be placed on the Homeland Security Department’s biometric surveillance operations and data storage infrastructure.

Specifically, they want to safeguard individuals from the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) database, which carries face, DNA and other biometric identifiers, according to Law360. The department’s Automated Biometric Identification System, or Ident, is being replaced by HART.

Commenters were responding to a request for information, about biometric technology, issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy last fall.

Among the responders, according to reporting by Law360, were the American Medical Association (which is concerned about racial bias) and the Open Technology Institute (which is worried that algorithm mistakes could hurt immigrants who are routinely scanned.

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