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DOJ says interim facial recognition policy prioritizes First Amendment rights

The Department delivered written testimony instead of showing up to hearing
DOJ says interim facial recognition policy prioritizes First Amendment rights

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has not yet gone public with its full interim policy on the use of facial recognition technology (FRT). However, after passing on an opportunity to testify last week in front of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the DOJ has now released written testimony that it submitted to the commission. The document outlines stances presumably codified in the interim policy, which it says was announced last December, including the use of face biometrics in relation to activities that are protected by the First Amendment.

The interim policy, says the testimony, “prohibits unlawful use of FRT, provides guardrails to ensure effective and compliant use, and addresses the Department’s FRT governance structure, including scope of FRT use, implementation, procurement, training, protection of privacy and civil rights, accuracy, the approval process for FRT use,” and more. It “mandates that activity protected by the First Amendment may not be the sole basis for the use of FRT” and specifies that this would apply to “peaceful protests and lawful assemblies, or the lawful exercise of other rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

Some of it covers ethical basics, such as prohibitions on using facial recognition for discriminatory purposes. There are measures to ensure tracking and accountability for deployments of the technology. More complicated given the shifting nature of AI regulation and the explosion of biometric algorithms for identity verification are assertions that “FRT systems must comply with the Department’s policies on artificial intelligence” and that “FRT results alone may not be relied upon as the sole proof of identity.”

The DOJ’s testimony admits that there are some civil rights concerns with facial recognition. Low thresholds for cost and implementation make it easy to exploit or misuse. There is an acknowledgement of the potential for bias in algorithms or biometric data sets used for training, and of the potential for FRT and large databases of face biometrics to be used for unlawful surveillance.

“At the same time,” says the testimony, “FRT and similar biometric tools have become essential to promoting public safety, including for identifying and locating missing children, fighting human trafficking, identifying missing and deceased individuals, and identifying perpetrators of crime. When employed correctly, FRT affirmatively strengthens our public safety system. FRT also strengthens our capacity to secure access to sensitive locations through identity verification.”

The DOJ says “the key is ensuring that we have the right tools and expertise to leverage technologies like FRT and realize their benefits, while also ensuring that we have effective safeguards in place to mitigate potential harm.”

New US policy requires agencies to impose AI safeguards, hire AI officers

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued its first policy on the risks and benefits of AI, as a legislative follow up to Joe Biden’s Executive Order. A government release says the policy “places people and communities at the center of the government’s innovation goals.” To that end, it requires government agencies to have implemented, by December 2024, “concrete safeguards when using AI in a way that could impact Americans’ rights or safety.” It also mandates transparency by requiring additional reporting and disclosure, and requires federal agencies to designate Chief AI Officers and establish AI governance boards.

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