ACLU sues US gov calling for transparency over facial recognition tech
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is taking several US government agencies to court claiming they have refused to comply with freedom of information requests related to the transparency of law enforcement usage of facial recognition technology.
The lawsuit claims in January 2019 the ACLU submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request to three US government agencies, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The FOI request pressed those agencies to supply all records outlining how, where and when facial recognition technologies had been utilized.
“Production of these records is important to assist the public in understanding the government’s use of highly invasive biometric identification and tracking technologies,” the ACLU states in the court lodgment. “These 2 technologies have the potential to enable undetectable, persistent, and suspicionless surveillance on an unprecedented scale. Such surveillance would permit the government to pervasively track people’s movements and associations in ways that threaten core constitutional values.”
As described in the complaint, the ACLU received acknowledgment of the FOI request from both the FBI and DEA within weeks of the initial submission. However, the last correspondence to the ACLU on the matter was a notification from the DEA on April 12, 2019, stating, “your request has been assigned and is being handled as expeditiously as possible.” Since then, the ACLU heard absolutely nothing from any of the agencies, suggesting they were not planning on responding to the legal request in violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
In a statement accompanying the complaint, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts Kade Crockford says that what we already know about FBI uses of facial recognition technology, from public reporting and admissions to Congress, is already concerning.
“And when that agency stonewalls our requests for information about how its agents are tracking and monitoring our faces, we should all be concerned,” writes Crockford. “That’s why today we’re asking a federal court to intervene and order the FBI and related agencies to turn over all records concerning their use of face recognition technology.”
Concerns are growing globally over the increasing use of facial recognition technology. Several US cities and states have recently rolled out bans of the technology, while an ongoing battle in UK courts is challenging law enforcement uses of facial recognition in public spaces.