The request specifically calls out “dangers” in multiple federal agencies operating Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology.
A bicameral cadre of lawmakers Wednesday called on the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, Interior and Health and Human Services to cease their use of facial recognition technology—specifically calling concern to their use of Clearview AI’s tools.
“Facial recognition tools pose a serious threat to the public’s civil liberties and privacy rights, and Clearview AI’s product is particularly dangerous,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to agency secretaries. “We urge you to immediately stop the Department’s use of facial recognition technology, including Clearview AI’s tools.”
The letter follows the IRS’ decision to move away from forcing Americans to verify their identities by taking selfies through the ID.me service in order to file tax returns, after significant public backlash.
However, the IRS is only one of several large federal agencies that employ facial recognition tools, according to a 92-page report the Government Accountability Office published last June. According to GAO—Congress’ investigative arm—10 federal agencies deployed systems made by Clearview AI, whose controversial software allows users to match photos of unknown people to their online images. Among the agencies using Clearview AI’s software were the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; FBI; Capitol Police; Marshals Service; Park Police; Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol; and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Agencies reported using various public- and private-sector biometrics tools for a variety of purposes, including surveillance, traveler verification, COVID-19 response and research, and development projects.
Critics have contended facial recognition tools violate Americans’ privacy rights, particularly among minorities.
“Use of increasingly powerful technologies like Clearview AI’s have the concerning potential to violate Americans’ privacy rights and exacerbate existing injustices,” the lawmakers wrote. “Facial recognition technology like Clearview’s poses unique threats to marginalized communities in ways that extend beyond the tools’ inaccuracy issues. Communities of color are systematically subjected to over-policing, and the proliferation of biometric surveillance tools is, therefore, likely to disproportionately infringe upon the privacy of individuals in Black, Brown and immigrant communities.”
The letter was authored by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. Over the summer, Pressley introduced legislation that would ban the use of facial recognition in public housing due to privacy concerns.