Facial recognition technology is being used increasingly by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and has led to false arrests nationwide, largely of Black men and women. Agencies have not properly trained their staffs on how to use facial recognition technology or imposed policies to protect the public's civil rights when it is used, a report by a government watchdog says. The technology has long been criticized for failing to identify Black people and others with dark skin tones accurately, Axios reports. Despite flaws, the technology is used by police, retail stores, airports, and sports arenas. Some local governments that initially restricted its use are weighing whether to ease those limits because of jumps in crime. A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that from October 2019 to March 2022, the FBI, DEA, Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations, and three other agencies used facial recognition systems for criminal probes without requiring staff training. The GAO found that six agencies cumulatively conducted about 60,000 photo searches without having the proper training requirements in place.
The latest facial recognition surveillance technology is designed to identify people seen on security cameras in real-time, or close to it. It aims to match security camera footage with publicly available images, such as police mug shots or social media profiles, tied to that person's identity. The Department of Homeland Security plans to finalize a civil rights policy tied to facial recognition systems by December, GAO says. "DHS remains committed to embedding and enforcing privacy, civil rights and civil liberties protections, and enhancing transparency, in all DHS activities and programs, as appropriate," the department told GAO. The Justice Department, which oversees the FBI and other agencies, has also taken steps to issue a department-wide policy but has faced delays in part because of funding issues. The GAO gave recommendations on how to strengthen civil rights and training around the technology. It suggested that the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should periodically monitor whether staff using facial recognition services have completed training requirements. GAO called for the attorney general to develop a plan for issuing a facial recognition technology policy that addresses safeguards for civil rights and civil liberties.