A civil rights watchdog sued Thursday against the FBI and other federal agencies claiming the government mistakenly retains information on how millions of Americans are using a facial recognition database.
“Due to the secrecy of the FBI there is little knowledge about how the agency is overloading its surveillance activities with face recognition technology,” Kade Crockford from the United States Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.
“The public has a right to know how, how, and how law enforcement officers use face recognition software and, if any, what safeguards are in place to protect our rights.” ACLU’s Free Information Act application suggests that the departments “missed producing receptive information” in response to requests from FBI, the Department of Justice, and Drug Enforcement Administration.
Activists claim that the FBI secretly gathers biometric data on the eyes, iris, walking habits, and speech of individuals and has a database of at least 640 million adult photographs in the USA.
“Face and other biometric surveillance technologies can allow undetected, persistent and suspect monitoring to an unprecedented extent,” said Crockford.
“This dystopian surveillance technology aims to fundamentally transform our free society into one in which the government tracks and controls us, as suspects.” Proponents of facial recognition argue this is a useful tool that can make it easier to catch criminals, and ensure safety in large crowded airports and sites.
Nevertheless, privacy and civil rights activists say that the software remains flawed and could capture innocent people.
San Francisco has banned official entities from use of software and some experts have cautioned against errors, in particular in identifying minorities, and creating large databases that may be abused or hacked.
The Massachusetts lawsuit asks the government to provide information on what data it has and who can access it.
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to the lawsuit.