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Senators Press DOJ To Probe How Police Use Facial Recognition Tools

Democratic senators have demanded that the Justice Department look at how police use facial recognition tools and whether it violates civil rights laws. It is part of a fresh wave of scrutiny to a technology that has triggered national concerns but has never come under federal regulations. The senators asked DOJ to explain how the agency’s policies ensure that law enforcement agencies receiving federal funds for facial recognition technology comply with civil rights protections. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) is the letter’s lead author, joined by Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL), 15 other Democrats and one independent. DOJ has awarded at least $3.2 million to local law enforcement agencies for facial recognition software since 2007, Poiltico reports.


The letter comes a day after the National Academies released a report concluding that facial recognition systems have gotten so advanced that the industry requires federal oversight. A committee heard from stakeholders on facial recognition over nine months, and concluded that the technology is a cause for concern because of both human misuse and technical shortcomings. The Federal Trade Commission is policing the technology under existing consumer protection laws. The agency issued guidance on the use of consumers’ biometric data last May, and in December, it issued a first-of-its-kind ban on a private company using facial recognition, after alleging Rite Aid’s facial recognition system disproportionately misidentified people of color and women as shoplifters. Facial recognition — the use of automated systems to identify people from surveillance footage, online photos or other images — has been on Congress’s radar for more than a decade. The technology’s rapid advancement and adoption among law enforcement and private industries is creating a new sense of urgency — as is new evidence that the technology can be harmful, ineffective or biased.

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