US rights groups push for limits on facial recognition tech

The EFF argues that FRT is unreliable and puts marginalised communities at risk while threatening privacy.

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Rights groups are intensifying their calls for restrictions on using facial recognition technology (FRT) by the US government. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has submitted comments to the US Commission on Civil Rights, asserting that FRT lacks reliability for making decisions that impact constitutional rights or social benefits and it poses risks to marginalised communities and privacy. EFF advocates for a ban on government use of FRT and strict limits on private sector use to safeguard against the perceived threats posed by this technology.

Joining EFF, the immigrant advocacy organisation United We Dream and over 30 civil rights partners have also submitted comments to the commission. They highlight concerns that a legal loophole has enabled agencies like ICE and CBP to use facial recognition for extensive surveillance of immigrants and people of colour. The alliance argues that FRT’s algorithmic biases often lead to incorrect identifications, unjust arrests, detentions, and deportations within immigrant communities.

The US Commission on Civil Rights has been conducting hearings with various stakeholders presenting their perspectives on FRT. While rights groups and advocates have raised concerns, government, enforcement agencies, vendors, and institutions, like NIST, have defended the technology. The Department of Justice emphasised its interim facial recognition policy prioritising First Amendment rights, while HUD submitted written testimony in recent weeks.

Why does it matter?

Official data from 2021 reveals that 18 out of 24 federal agencies surveyed were employing facial recognition technology, predominantly for law enforcement and digital access purposes. This ongoing debate underscores the growing scrutiny and debate surrounding using FRT in government operations and its impact on civil liberties and marginalised communities.