At today’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the FBI’s use of facial recognition technology, serious secrecy and privacy concerns were raised about the collection, sharing and use of such biometrics data. Greater oversight and transparency, areas of serious concern for open government groups and civil rights advocates alike, are critical to ensuring the public’s right to know about the expanding collection and use of such data. The hearing was the first time the FBI has been forced to testify, under oath, at the same table as privacy advocates who have been calling for greater scrutiny of these FBI programs for years.
OTG has been engaged in challenging the lack of accountability and of protections in these programs since 2016. In June, OTG joined a coalition of organizations requesting that Congress hold a hearing on FBI’s use of facial recognition technology and its proposal to exempt its massive biometrics database from key Privacy Act protections. In July, OTG and our partners submitted comments to the Department of Justice calling for stronger privacy and transparency measures for the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, and opposing the FBI’s proposal to weaken existing protections. In October, OTG also joined a coalition in calling for a DOJ investigation of use of face recognition technology by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
The purpose of today’s hearing, according to the Committee, was to review the current state of facial recognition technology, evaluate if legislation is necessary to provide statutory authority limiting the use of this technology and the sharing of biometrics data, and to examine FBI policies that govern the recording, retention, and use of photographs by law enforcement. More than 400 million images of faces of people in the U.S. are archived in law enforcement facial recognition networks, according to a 2016 Government Accountability Office report. Those images include the faces of about half of all U.S. adults, according to a report from the Georgetown University Law School’s Center on Privacy & Technology.