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Critics of facial recognition out-lobbying well-known vendors

Critics of facial recognition out-lobbying well-known vendors

A research group picking through U.S. lobbying activity about facial recognition shows fairly modest spending by most organizations last year, but there might be more to the story.

At least two special interest groups critical of facial recognition surveillance spent as much or more than some of the biometrics vendors spotlighted in the report by nonprofit lobbyist-monitoring organization OpenSecrets.

While a good window into what is happening in this sector, it is thin, hobbled by its source material.

The federal government does not press for many details in registration forms when asking about influence-peddling topics activity.

OpenSecrets can do little more than pull the records of individual companies. Interesting, but not so helpful for trends.

For instance, Clearview AI, the startup that wants to scrape from the internet at least one photo of every human’s face, threw $120,000 at lawmakers in 2021. Not exactly reckless abandon.

Aviation and access control biometrics services vendor Clear, part of AlClear, seeded $1 million — two-thirds of AlClear’s $1.5 million lobbying budget.

Biometrics firm Ideal Innovations, according to OpenSecrets, mustered $114,000 in the cause of favorable regulation.

Assuming a researcher could total the lobbying budget for the entire surveillance category, it would without doubt be lost in the rounding of top-level segments like communications/electronics, which tallied $500 million last year.

The top-spending segment was healthcare at $676 million.

That said, more lobbyists are being employed in the name of facial recognition, including law enforcement associations.

Like tech giants IBM and Microsoft, these groups report total lobbyist spending while only listing facial recognition as one area of interest.

Such is the case with Major Cities Chiefs, Major County Sheriffs of America, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Then there is the Project for Privacy & Surveillance Accountability. The organization laid out about $400,000, and that was half of what it spent in 2020.

A like entity, Reform Government Surveillance, lined the pockets of federal officials with $520,000, its biggest year since at least 2014.

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