US federal agencies should better assess risks associated with facial recognition technology, says government report

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report on the use of facial recognition technology (FRT) by federal law enforcement agencies. Among the 42 federal agencies surveyed for the report, 20 reported owning FRT systems or using systems owned by others. The surveyed agencies reported using FRT to support several activities, from criminal investigations to activities in response to COVID-19 (e.g. verify an individual identity’s remotely). Also, six agencies said they were using the technology to help identify people suspected of violating the law during the civil unrest, riots, or protests following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, and three acknowledged using it on images of the US Capitol attack in January 2021. Fourteen agencies that use FRT to support criminal investigations also use systems owned by non-federal entities, but only one has awareness of what non-federal systems are used by its employees. As such, GAO recommended that the remaining 13 agencies track employees’ use of non-federal systems and assess the risks these systems can pose regarding privacy, accuracy, and other issues.