The U.S. Government Accountability Office just issued a major report on the FBI face recognition programs. It’s startling. And it’s a game changer.
For years, we’ve focused on the FBI face recognition database, called the NGI Interstate Photo System. The FBI also runs face recognition searches on sixteen states’ drivers license photos: at least 173 million photos.
The FBI has built a national face recognition system — not of criminals, but of many millions of law-abiding Americans. In total, the FBI can run face recognition on +400 million faces, of which at least 173 million are driver’s licenses.
Context: Between 2010 and 2014, all states and the FBI obtained 16,541 wiretaps. Between 2011 and 2015, the FBI ran 36,430 face recognition searches of drivers licenses.
Face recognition searches are far more common than wiretaps, yet we regulate wiretaps – and don’t regulate face recognition.
It gets worse. For years the FBI has told Congress that audits would block misuse of its face recognition programs, but the FBI has never audited states’ use of its database or its use of state face recognition databases.
Even though the FBI’s own research has shown high error rates among African Americans, women and young people, the FBI has conducted minimal accuracy tests on its own database and no accuracy tests on the 16 states’ databases.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office echoes a letter from forty-five groups and companies: the FBI has been years late on basic, mandatory privacy notices.
The U.S. GAO makes clear: FBI needs more oversight, not less. Yet right now, the FBI is pushing for less transparency.
You can act. You can push for a Face Recognition Act. You can file comments with the FBI to stop secret biometrics.