WASHINGTON Oct 18 Fifty civil rights groups
signed a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday
to investigate police use of facial-recognition databases,
arguing the technology disproportionately affects minorities and
has minimal oversight.
The request coincides with the release of a law school's
report concluding half of America's adults have their images
stored in at least one searchable facial-recognition database
used by local, state and federal authorities and amid concern
about law enforcement's use of force against black men.
Facial-recognition databases are used by police to help
identify criminal suspects. They typically work by conducting
searches of vast troves of known images, such as mug shots, and
algorithmically comparing them with other images, such as those
taken form a store's surveillance cameras, that capture an
unidentified person believed to be committing a crime.
Use of face recognition "is rapidly being interconnected
with everyday police activities, impacting virtually every
jurisdiction in America," the groups, including the American
Civil Liberties Union, the Leadership Conference on Civil and
Human Rights, and the Center for Democracy and Technology, said
in the letter.
"Yet, the safeguards to ensure this technology is being used
fairly and responsibly appear to be virtually nonexistent," it
The Justice Department deferred to the FBI for comment,
which did not immediately respond.
Because blacks are disproportionately arrested and subjected
to mug shot photos, they are more likely than other groups to
have their images stored and scanned in facial-recognition
databases used to search for criminal suspects, according to a
150-page report released Tuesday by the Center for Privacy &
Technology at the Georgetown University law school.
Those databases are not regularly audited by authorities for
accuracy and seldom have images of innocent people expunged,
meaning that black Americans are more likely to be identified as
suspects for crimes, including those they may have not
committed, the report, titled "Perpetual Line-Up," concluded.
The report found that states rely on mug shots,
driver's-license photos, or both in assembling their databases,
and that images are often shared with the Federal Bureau of
It also warned that the technology could be used to limit
free speech, as only one of 52 agencies tracked had a policy in
place to expressly forbid its use to track people engaging in
political or religious speech.
(Reporting by Dustin Volz; editing by Grant McCool)