Updated: Oct 14, 2021
June 3, 2019
The Honorable Elijah Cummings Chairman U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee 2157 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515
The Honorable Jim Jordan Ranking Member U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee 2105 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Chairman Cummings and Ranking Member Jordan:
The undersigned privacy, civil liberties, civil rights, and investor and faith groups write to urge you to put in place a federal moratorium on face recognition for law enforcement and immigration enforcement purposes until Congress fully debates what, if any, uses should be permitted. This moratorium should also apply to the provision of federal grants and assistance to states and localities who seek to deploy this technology for law enforcement or immigration purposes. Given the substantial concerns, which representatives on both sides of the aisle recognized at a recent hearing, prompt action is necessary to protect people from harm. Face recognition gives government agencies the unprecedented power to track who we are, where we go, and who we know. Companies marketing this technology to the government boast that it can be used to track people in real-time, reconstruct past movements from video footage, or identify a hundred individuals from a single photo. This capability threatens to create a world where people are watched and identified as they attend a protest, congregate outside a place of worship, visit a medical provider, or simply go about their daily lives. The fact that this technology, which can be readily abused, has been deployed by federal agencies largely in secret should give us all pause. Neither Congress nor a single state legislature has passed a law explicitly authorizing face recognition for law enforcement use that clearly dictates what safeguards must be in place. Yet, federal agencies, including the FBI, have continued to expand the use of face recognition without safeguards. The FBI has access to over 400 million photos for face matching, including the driver’s license databases of over fifteen states and passport application photos,ii has performed hundreds of thousands of face recognition searches, and is now reportedly piloting new uses of the technology. A moratorium is also warranted because the harms associated with this technology will disproportionally fall on vulnerable communities, including communities of color. Numerous studies have found that face recognition is less accurate on certain groups, including women and people with darker skin. For example, a study examining leading face recognition algorithms found that they were 30 percent inaccurate on women of color. Despite these studies, the FBI has not fully tested the accuracy of its own systems and disavows any responsibility to test the accuracy of external agency systems that it uses. Even if the technology were perfectly accurate, it is being deployed in an imperfect world. Thus, it would still risk exacerbating existing 2 disparities in the criminal justice system because the technology is more likely to be used on communities that are already disproportionately policed, arrested, and likely to have force improperly used against them. In the U.S., the technology has already been used to identify people protesting police brutality; abroad, it has been deployed to systematically control a religious minority group.
Such risks are further compounded given that federal agencies’ use of face recognition does not appear to fully comport with the Constitution. Though the Supreme Court has ruled that the government must get a warrant when collecting or demanding certain location information, the FBI does not have public policy requiring the agency to obtain a warrant or any independent judicial approval prior to using face recognition. Moreover, the minuscule number of court cases referencing face recognition suggests that the FBI may not be fully complying with its constitutional obligation to provide disclosure or notice to criminal defendants, including in cases where face recognition may constitute exculpatory evidence.iii Congress should put in place a moratorium on federal use or provision of assistance for the deployment of face recognition for immigration and law enforcement purposes until there can be a full debate about what, if any, uses should be permitted. We should not move forward with the deployment of this technology until and unless our rights can be fully safeguarded.
Sincerely, Advocacy for Principled Action in Government Algorithmic Justice League American Civil Liberties Union American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) Arab American Institute Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood Center for Democracy & Technology Center for Digital Democracy Center for Popular Democracy Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes Constitutional Alliance Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Data for Black Lives DC-MD Justice For Our Neighbors Defending Rights & Dissent Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids Electronic Frontier Foundation Equality North Carolina Fight for the Future Free Press Action FreedomWorks Government Accountability Project Government Information Watch Harrington Investments, Inc. Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston Justice For Muslims Collective The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights LGBT Technology Partnership Library Freedom Project Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Million Hoodies Movement for Justice Montgomery County (MD) Civil Rights Coalition