Privacy advocates spoke out Wednesday at a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security against the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement.
It comes after revelations that both the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement use a database of millions of Americans' drivers' license photos, including in states that allow undocumented immigrants to get a license.
Evan Greer, deputy director of the group Fight for the Future
, says that amounts to millions of warrantless searches.
"So this is a really incredible bait and switch where people willingly gave their photos without consenting for those photos being searched or scanned for this purpose," Greer says. "And now the U.S. government is conducting essentially dragnet surveillance or analysis of those photos in order to target immigrants."
Law enforcement officials argue that the technology could allow them to track the movements of people suspected of serious crimes, including terrorism. But privacy advocates say it undermines the presumption of anonymity in public and worry that some departments could use it to target protesters.
Advocates also note that the technology often misidentifies people and could lead police to approach an innocent person with guns drawn, raising the risk of violence.
The city of Detroit recently tabled a motion to use traffic cameras that can track faces. And Michigan state Rep. Isaac Robinson recently introduced a bill
to put a five-year moratorium on the use of facial recognition surveillance by police.
Greer applauds the move, saying the technology is particularly unreliable when identifying African-American faces.
"This type of technology could eventually supercharge or automate racial profiling and discrimination," he points out. "This system having an error could land an innocent person in prison, get someone deported, or targeted by the police."
California lawmakers are considering a bill
to ban law enforcement statewide from using facial recognition or biometric surveillance, which identifies people by their tattoos or the way they walk.
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