ACLU sues government organizations over facial-recognition software

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is taking action against facial-recognition software by suing the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the FBI for failure to reveal how the technology is used.

The ACLU filed a complaint against the three federal organizations on Thursday, October 31, over their failure to release records and policies on facial-recognition software use, including how it is regulated, that were requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 

“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 complaint says. “These 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.”

The ACLU wants more transparency from the government in how facial recognition is used for surveillance of U.S. citizens. According to the complaint, the FBI is using Amazon’s facial-recognition software, known as Rekignition, which can detect emotions on people’s faces, including fear. 

There is also worry from the ACLU that facial-recognition software can be used to falsely accuse people of crimes, particularly people of color. 

“Through the request, the Ppaintiffs seek to understand and inform the public about, among other things, how face recognition and other biometric identification technologies are currently being used by the government, and what, if any, safeguards are currently in place to prevent their abuse and protect core constitutional rights,” the ACLU’s complaint continues. 

Facial-recognition technology is widely considered controversial. Politicians from both sides — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) — agree that facial-recognition use poses a threat to civil liberties. 

Some groups have even called for a total ban on facial recognition. In July, the digital rights group Fight for the Future called for a complete ban for facial-recognition surveillance software, specifically for government use.

Digital Trends reached out to the DOJ, the DEA, and the FBI to comment on ACLU’s complaint, and we’ll update this story if we hear back. 

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