US law enforcement able to access facial photos of 117 million Americans

Occurred: October 2016

Law enforcement agencies across the US were able to access the facial photos of over 117 million US adults stored in government datasets, raising serious questions about privacy and transparency.

After a year-long investigation based on over 100 Freedom of Information (FOI/FOIA) requests and dozens of interviews, researchers at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology discovered that half of American adults were enrolled in a facial recognition network searchable by law enforcement.

They found that FBI, state and local police departments were using or building facial recognition systems to compare the faces of suspected criminals to their driver’s license and ID photos in a mostly opaque and unregulated manner, and that few agencies had instituted 'meaningful protections' to prevent misuse of the technology.

The report recommended that the use of facial recognition for law enforcement should be stopped. 

The findings raised concerns about privacy and civil liberties, and led to legislative and policy changes in many US states. 

System 🤖

Operator: Chicago PD; Dallas PD; LAPD
Developer: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Country: USA
Sector: Govt - police
Purpose: Identify criminals
Technology: Facial recognition
Issue: Privacy; Accuracy/reliability; Bias/discrimination - racial, ethnicity
Transparency: Black box; Governance

Page info
Type: Issue
Published: November 2021