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Report: One in two American adults is in a face recognition database

Privacy SOS
October 18, 2016


A breathtaking new report from the Center for Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law School finds that one in two American adults is in a face recognition database. The numbers are so huge in large part because states are increasingly allowing the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to use drivers license databases as “perpetual lineups,” the report says. Face recognition technology is spreading like wildfire throughout the United States, without the necessary public debate, legal restrictions, and policy guidance to ensure it can be used without violating the civil rights and civil liberties of millions of people not suspected of serious crimes.

There is no state or federal law requiring government agencies to limit face recognition searches, or to perform audits to ensure system accuracy or check for abuse. Nonetheless, sheriffs departments, state and local law enforcement agencies, and the FBI are all in the face recognition game to varying degrees nationwide. Some of the large trend-setting police departments, like the NYPD and LAPD, reportedly have facial recognition programs, but refused to provide records in response to Georgetown’s requests. As is typical when it comes to the most privacy-invasive kinds of digital surveillance, law enforcement is largely staying mum on its use of this troublesome tool—even if that means they are potentially violating state public records law in the process.



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