Feb 9, 2022 - Technology

Battle over government use of face recognition rages on

An illustration of facial recognition software in action
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Fresh on the heels of getting the IRS to end a controversial use of facial recognition, politicians and civil liberties groups are trying to get other government agencies to drop their use of the technology.

Why it matters: While a handful of cities have passed laws on government use of facial recognition, there are few limits on how the federal government can use such technology.

Driving the news:

  • Senators Ed Markey and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Ayanna Pressley are sending letters Wednesday to the heads of the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services. Department of Defense, and Department of Interior, urging the agencies to stop using Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology.
  • Fight for the Future has updated the DumpID.me effort to focus on other government agencies still using ID.me for online authentication, including the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Meanwhile, ID.me is looking to move forward as well. The company said Tuesday that it will offer government agency customers the option to allow people to verify their identity without having to submit a selfie to its automated system. Also, starting March 1, it says those using its system will be able to delete their photo or selfie from the company's database.
  • The moves follow the IRS' decision to end use of ID.me's selfie-based identity verification system. The tax agency's reversal followed a backlash from regulators and civil liberties groups who raised concerns about facial recognition technology broadly, as well as specific issues related to ID.me.

What they're saying:

  • Fight for the Future campaign director Caitlin Seeley George: "Veterans trying to access their benefits, elderly people trying to access Social Security Administration resources, and those applying for unemployment benefits in dozens of states are all facing the same problems and threats that caused the IRS to stop using ID.me. Many of these essential services are critical for marginalized groups, people who are already disproportionately targeted by surveillance and misidentified by facial recognition technologies."
  • ID.me CEO Blake Hall: "We have listened to the feedback about facial recognition and are making this important change, adding an option for users to verify directly with a human agent to ensure consumers have even more choice and control over their personal data."
  • Sens. Markey and Merkley and Reps. Pressley and Jayapal: "Facial recognition technology like Clearview’s poses unique threats to marginalized communities in ways that extend beyond the tools’ inaccuracy issues. Communities of color are systematically subjected to over-policing, and the proliferation of biometric surveillance tools is, therefore, likely to disproportionately infringe upon the privacy of individuals in Black, Brown, and immigrant communities."
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