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Congress Pressures More Agencies to End Use of Facial Recognition After Debacle

(by Jonathan Greig | ZDNet) – Members of Congress are continuing their push against facial recognition used by the federal government in the wake of the IRS decision to stop using facial recognition software.

On Wednesday, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, and Rep Ayanna Pressley joined Senators Ed Markey and Jeff Merkley in calling for DHS to end its use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology.

“Facial recognition tools pose a serious threat to the public’s civil liberties and privacy rights, and Clearview AI’s product is particularly dangerous. We urge you to immediately stop the Department’s use of facial recognition technology, including Clearview AI’s tools. Clearview AI’s technology could eliminate public anonymity in the United States,” the members of Congress wrote in a letter to Homeland Security.

“It reportedly allows users to capture and upload photos of strangers, analyze the photographed individuals’ biometric information, and provide users with existing images and personal information of the photographed individuals found online. Clearview AI reportedly scrapes billions of photos from social media sites without permission from or notice to the pictured individuals. In conjunction with the company’s facial recognition capabilities, this trove of personal information is capable of fundamentally dismantling Americans’ expectation that they can move, assemble, or simply appear in public without being identified. Reports indicate that use of this technology is already threatening to do so.”

They go on to explain that the use of facial recognition technology would deter people from participating in marches and rallies “for fear of being permanently included in law enforcement databases.”

The technology poses unique threats to Black communities, other communities of color, and immigrant communities, the members of Congress added, noting that three Black men have already been wrongfully arrested based on mistakes made by a facial recognition system. Studies from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have also found that Black, Brown, and Asian individuals were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white male faces with most facial recognition tools available.

According to the letter, facial recognition software is being promoted widely among law enforcement agencies, and “reviews of deployment of facial recognition technology show that law enforcement entities are more likely to use it on Black and Brown individuals than they are on white individuals.”

“Additionally, past law enforcement use of this technology reportedly targeted Black Lives Matter activists. Use of increasingly powerful technologies like Clearview AI’s have the concerning potential to violate Americans’ privacy rights and exacerbate existing injustices,” Jayapal, Markey, Pressley, and Merkley wrote.

“Therefore, as the authors of the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act (S. 2052/H.R. 3907) — which would halt a federal agency or official from using these technologies — we urge you to stop use of facial recognition tools, including Clearview AI’s products.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment. The letter comes two days after the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it will no longer be using facial recognition software. The agency added in a statement that it will “transition away from using a third-party service for facial recognition to help authenticate people creating new online accounts.”

The IRS had faced overwhelming backlash from civil rights groups and members of Congress from both parties, all of whom questioned how the IRS could begin the use of facial recognition without advance warning. Read Full Article >

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