Report: 13 federal law enforcement agencies not monitoring facial recognition technology use

WASHINGTON, DC — Law enforcement agencies around the country are using facial recognition technology for criminal investigations and now a new watchdog report is revealing a lack of oversight with the use of the systems at some federal agencies.

The report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said 13 of the federal law enforcement agencies surveyed that use facial recognition technology did not have a system in place to track when or how employees were using the system or to assess the privacy risks associated with the use.

In fact, some only learned that staff was using the technology after the agency surveyed them and asked about it.

“They discovered that the employees were indeed using the technology and they had used it for over 1,000 facial recognition searches,” said Gretta Goodwin, a Director with GAO.

The lack of awareness and lack of oversight is leading to privacy concerns.

“There are certainly privacy laws that need to be adhered to and so if agencies don’t have insight into how the technology is being used, there are opportunities for privacy laws to be abused,” said Goodwin. “One of the recommendations we made is that the agencies have a better understanding of what technology they have, how the technology is being used.”

The federal agencies listed in the report in need of implementing a mechanism to track the technology include the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshal’s Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection among other agencies.

The federal departments that oversee that listed agencies said they concur with the recommendations, according to the report.

The report said federal agencies have used the technology over the last year in part to identify suspects who committed civil unrest during the riots last summer and to identify suspects from the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol.