Facial Recognition

Latest News/Events

  • EPIC, Coalition Urge Biden Administration to Halt Use of Facial Recognition + (Feb. 17, 2021)
    In a coalition letter, EPIC and over 40 other privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights groups called on the Biden administration to 1) place a moratorium on federal use of facial recognition and other biometric technologies, 2) stop state and local governments from purchasing facial recognition services with federal funds, and 3) support the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Act. The coalition letter highlights the threat of facial recognition to create a panopticon of surveillance, the particular harms to people of color, women, and youth from mis-identification by facial recognition, and widespread adoption of facial recognition without public input. Last year, EPIC and a coalition of privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights groups urged Congress to pass Senator Markey's Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Act bill. In 2019, EPIC launched a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice coalition gathered the support of over 100 organizations and many leading experts across 30 plus countries.
  • EPIC Urges NIST to Adopt Privacy-Protective Standards for Federal ID Cards + (Feb. 2, 2021)
    In comments responding to the National Institute of Standards and Technology's draft Federal Information Processing Standards for personal identity verification (ID cards and digital identity verification), EPIC urged the agency to adopt more privacy protective technology for federal employees and contractors. EPIC drew upon expertise from the Advisory Board for these comments. EPIC recently urged the Department of Homeland Security to suspend a new counterintelligence system of records which will collect biometric information. EPIC previously urged the Department of Transportation to provide more privacy protections for federal employees in the Insider Threat database.
  • Hamburg DPA Deems Clearview AI's Biometric Photo database Illegal, Orders a Partial Deletion of Profile + (Jan. 28, 2021)
    The Hamburg Data Protection Authority has ruled that Clearview AI’s searchable database of biometric profiles is illegal under the EU’s GDPR and ordered the U.S. company to delete the claimant’s biometric profile. Clearview AI scrapes photos from websites to create a searchable database of biometric profiles. The database, which is marketed to private companies and U.S. law enforcement, contains over 3 billion images gathered from websites and social media. The claimant submitted a complaint to the Hamburg DPA after discovering that Clearview AI had added his biometric profile to the searchable database without his knowledge or consent. The DPA ordered Clearview to delete the mathematical hash values representing his profile but did not order Clearview to delete his captured photos. The DPA’s narrow order protects only the individual complainant because it is not a pan-European order banning the collection of any EU resident’s photos. The DPA decided that Clearview AI must comply with the GDPR, yet this narrow order places a burden on Europeans to have their profiles removed from the database. EPIC has long opposed systems like Clearview AI, filing an amicus brief before the 9th Circuit defending an individual's right to sue companies who violate BIPA and other privacy laws, submitting FOIA requests with several government agencies that use Clearview AI technology, and urgingthe Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
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  • EPIC to Maryland Legislators: Enact Biometric Privacy Law + (Jan. 27, 2021)

    EPIC Senior Counsel Jeramie Scott testified today to Senate and House Committees of the Maryland General Assembly in support of legislation protecting biometric information privacy. HB218 and SB16 are modeled after the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). Passed in 2008, BIPA has been referred to as one of the most effective and important privacy laws in America. "Unlike a password or account number, a person’s biometrics cannot be changed if they are compromised," EPIC told the Committees. EPIC stressed the importance of strong enforcement measures in privacy laws, particularly a private right of action. EPIC also submitted a recent case study on the Illinois law written by EPIC Advisory Board member Woody Hartzog. EPIC previously filed an amicus brief in Rosenbach v. Six Flags, where the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously decided that consumers can sue companies that violate the state's biometric privacy law. [Watch the hearing]

  • European Parliament Guidelines Call for Moratorium on Facial Recognition + (Jan. 22, 2021)
    In a report released on January 20, the European Parliament outlines the need for new legal frameworks for artificial intelligence and biometric surveillance. The report raises objections to both civilian and military uses of artificial intelligence, mass surveillance, and deepfakes. The European Parliament was particularly concerned with facial recognition technology, proposing a moratorium on its use in public and semi-public spaces. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance through the Public Voice coalition.
  • EPIC Urges DHS to Suspend New Counterintelligence Records System + (Jan. 13, 2021)
    EPIC submitted comments to the Department of Homeland Security in response to a system of records notice and proposed exemptions from Privacy Act requirements for a new counterintelligence records system. DHS's proposed records system would permit nearly limitless collection of sensitive personal information and unchecked disclosure of that information to state, local and international agencies, and to private companies. DHS's proposed exemptions would eliminate all individual rights under the Privacy Act and exempt DHS from basic Privacy Act requirements, including limiting data collection to necessary information. EPIC recently insisted that DHS rescind a proposed expansion of the use of biometrics, including facial recognition, across the agency.
  • New York Enacts Law Suspending Use of Facial Recognition in Schools + (Dec. 23, 2020)
    A bill signed into law yesterday suspends the use of facial recognition and other biometric technology by New York State schools. The ban will last for two years or until a study by the State Education Department is complete and finds that facial recognition technology is appropriate for use in schools, whichever takes longer. EPIC leads a campaign to ban face surveillance through the Public Voice coalition. EPIC recently filed a DC Consumer Protection Complaint alleging that online test proctoring companies have violated students' privacy and engaged in unfair and deceptive practices.
  • EPIC Urges CBP to Halt Use of Facial Recognition for Biometric Entry/Exit + (Dec. 21, 2020)
    EPIC submitted comments to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in response to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would drastically expand CBP’s use of facial recognition at airports and land border crossings. EPIC urged the agency to stop using facial recognition to identify travelers. EPIC criticized CBP’s implementation of Biometric Entry/Exit for the agency's failure to even follow its own Fair Information Practice Principles. EPIC recently insisted that DHS rescind a proposed expansion of the use of biometrics, including facial recognition, across the agency. Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
  • EPIC Urges Advisory Council to Address Privacy Risks of DHS’s Use of Biometrics + (Dec. 11, 2020)

    In response to a report by the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Biometric Subcommittee, EPIC urged the Council to table the report until they can address the privacy and civil liberties implications of the Department of Homeland Security’s collection and use of biometrics in full. The Biometric Subcommittee was tasked with examining DHS use and collection of biometrics. The Subcommittee’s report failed to address a rule proposed in September that would broadly expand DHS use of biometrics. EPIC previously argued that the proposed rule, giving DHS broad authorization for biometric collection, was incompatible with the department's Fair Information Practice Principles.

  • Vendor of School-Based Face Surveillance Systems Lied About Bias, Accuracy + (Dec. 2, 2020)
    Documents obtained by Motherboard show that a key vendor of school-based facial recognition tools lied to school officials about the accuracy rate and racial bias of its surveillance product. The records reveal that SN Technologies' AEGIS system misidentifies black students at alarmingly high rates and mistakes objects like broom handles for guns. Despite these errors, at least one New York school district has the system configured to automatically alert police when it detects a weapon or an individual on the district’s watchlist. The use of face surveillance systems in schools increases unnecessary interactions between police and students and can accelerate the school-to-prison pipeline. SN Technologies' algorithm was included in the 2019 NIST study that showed extensive racial bias in face surveillance systems. EPIC advocates for a moratorium on facial recognition technologies and urges policymakers to increase algorithmic accountability and transparency around the adoption and use of these tools.
  • Massachusetts Poised to Ban State Use of Biometric Surveillance + (Dec. 1, 2020)
    An omnibus police reform bill banning public agencies or officials from using facial recognition technology is set to pass the Massachusetts legislature in the coming week. The bill contains an exception for law enforcement to perform facial recognition searches against the state driver's license database, but requires the state to publish statistics on how often officers request access to the database. EPIC's Policy Director Caitriona Fitzgerald testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary to urge that a moratorium on facial recognition be included in a previous version of the bill. Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
  • LAPD Bans Use of Clearview AI Facial Recognition + (Nov. 19, 2020)
    The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) issued a moratorium on the use of third-party commercial facial recognition systems including Clearview AI. However, the LAPD will continue to use a Los Angeles County system which searches booking images. LAPD officers have used Clearview AI at least 475 times since 2019. Clearview AI is a particularly dangerous facial recognition system because it queries a database of over 3 billion images scraped from social media sites, compromising the privacy of more individuals than smaller-scale systems. EPIC recently filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking information on Immigrations and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) use of Clearview AI. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance.
  • EPIC Seeks Documents on Facial Recognition System Used to Identify D.C. Protester + (Nov. 13, 2020)
    EPIC filed a series of open government requests seeking information on a previously undisclosed facial recognition system used by police departments in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. EPIC sent requests to Metropolitan Police Department, Maryland National Capitol Park Police, and Montgomery County Police Department. The system was first revealed by the Washington Post on November 2, 2020. A protester accused of assaulting a police officer during a June 1 protest at D.C.'s Lafayette square was identified when police ran an image of him from Twitter against the National Capitol Region Facial Recognition Investigative Leads System (NCR-FRILS). EPIC recently filed suit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement to obtain documents about the agency's use of facial recognition. Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.

History

Facial recognition systems are computer-based security systems that are able to automatically detect and identify human faces. These systems depend on a recognition algorithm, such as eigenface or the hidden Markov model. The first step for a facial recognition system is to recognize a human face and extract it fro the rest of the scene. Next, the system measures nodal points on the face, such as the distance between the eyes, the shape of the cheekbones and other distinguishable features. These nodal points are then compared to the nodal points computed from a database of pictures in order to find a match. Obviously, such a system is limited based on the angle of the face captured and the lighting conditions present. New technologies are currently in development to create three-dimensional models of a person's face based on a digital photograph in order to create more nodal points for comparison. However, such technology is inherently susceptible to error given that the computer is extrapolating a three-dimensional model from a two-dimensional photograph.

Throughout the nation and the world, the debate on the privacy implications of face recognition and other surveillance technologies is heating up. In January 2001, the city of Tampa, Florida used the technology to scan the faces of people in crowds at the Super Bowl, comparing them with images in a database of digital mug shots. Privacy International subsequently gave the 2001 Big Brother Award for "Worst Public Official" to the City of Tampa for spying on Super Bowl attendees. Tampa then installed cameras equipped with face recognition technology in their Ybor City nightlife district, where they have encountered opposition from people wearing masks and making obscene gestures at the cameras. In late August 2001, a member of the Jacksonville, Florida City Council proposed legislation to keep the technology out of Jacksonville.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services gave a $150,000 grant to the city of Virginia Beach in July 2001, to help the city obtain face recognition cameras to look for criminal suspects and missing children. Although officials had initially expressed mixed feelings about the technology, the city council voted on November 13 to install the software at the oceanfront. To fully fund the system, the city must pay an additional $50,000.

In the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., privacy advocates, citizen groups, political leaders, and the manufacturers of the technology itself are debating whether these technologies should be more widely used, and if so, how they should be regulated to protect the privacy of the public. Some airports are considering installing face recognition cameras as a security measure. However, T.F. Green International Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, one of the first airports to consider it, decided in January 2002 that they would not install it after all, citing the possibility of false matches and other technological shortcomings of facial recognition systems.

Subsequently, in August of 2003, the Tampa Police Department scrapped Ybor City's facial-recognition system, citing the system's ineffectiveness as bearing heavily on their decision. Virginia Beach's system is still in place, however, it has never produced a match or arrest since its installation in 2002. Boston's Logan Airport ran two separate facial recognition system tests at its security checkpoints using volunteers posing as terrorists over a three-month period and posted disappointing results. Throughout the testing period, the systems correctly identified the volunteers 153 times and failed to identify the volunteers 96 times. As a result of the lackluster success rate of only 61.4 percent, the airport decided to explore other technologies for securing its checkpoints

Recently, the focus on facial recognition systems has shifted to its use as a way to secure borders. The United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program requires visitors of the United States to provide fingerprints and a digital photograph at their port of entry. US-VISIT then interfaces with the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) database to check and see if the visitor is a "person of interest." Similarly, the Real ID Act of 2005 would include an integrated computer chip in every driver's license issued after May 2008 that contains a digital photograph, which could be used for facial recognition purposes.

News Items

Resources

Reports on Facial Recognition

Previous Top News

  • International Police Organization Proposes Worldwide Facial Recognition System. Interpol, the Europe-based international law enforcement group, has proposed an automated face-recognition system for international borders. Such a system could require travelers to undergo face scans, and make the information available to numerous countries. An Interpol face-recognition database would permit Interpol member nations to search records containing travelers' personal biometric information, and could be used in conjunction with travel watch lists. The inaccuracy of facial recognition technology has repeatedly been criticized. Privacy watchdogs have questioned the efficacy and wisdom of government programs that collect ever-more personal information at border crossings. "We need to get our data to the border entry points. There will be such a large role in the future for fingerprints and facial recognition," said Mark Branchflower, head of Interpol's fingerprint unit. (Oct. 20, 2008)
  • Companies Use Surveillance Cameras for Advertising Studies. Surveillance cameras have long been used as anti-crime devices. However, companies are now seeking to use surveillance cameras to watch people for advertising research. In Germany, developers are placing video cameras into street advertisements and attempting to discern people's emotional reactions to the ads. Dutch researchers are using experimental emotion-recognition software to test individuals' reactions to advertisements and marketing. (July 10, 2007)
  • Federal Air Marshals to Surreptitiously Photograph Travelers. The US Department of Homeland Security is investing in face recognition technology so that federal marshals can surreptitiously photograph people in airports, bus and train stations, and elsewhere to check whether they are in terrorist databases. The Los Angeles police department already is using handheld facial recognition devices. See EPIC's Video Surveillance page. (May 10, 2007)
  • British Police Look to Build National Mugshot Database. The Police Information Technology Organisation aims to create a national database of still and video facial images, tattoos, and other imagery linked to criminal biographical information. They are also looking into how they can incorporate facial recognition software into the mugshot database for the police forces of England, Scotland, and Wales. (Jan. 16, 2006)
  • New German E-Passports Thwarted by People Smiling. Germany started issuing biometric passports a week ago but problems have been caused by people smiling and visible teeth. Germany has had to issue guidelines warning that people "must have a neutral facial expression and look straight at the camera." Germany, Belgium and Sweden are the three EU countries offering biometric passports. (Nov. 10, 2005)
  • Spotlight: Facial Recognition Systems Don't Picture Privacy. This month, Spotlight focuses on facial recognition systems. The Department of Homeland Security has spent millions of dollars on these "smart" cameras that attempt to identify people based on their facial images. However, several tests show the systems are not reliable. Facial recognition systems also create significant privacy risks: the cameras are often hidden and there are no laws to prevent abuse. (Nov. 4, 2005)
  • UK Will Have E-passports With Facial Recognition in 2006. The United Kingdom plans to have e-passports equipped with facial biometrics and ID cards early next year. The UK government also plans to include fingerprints in both by 2009. The passports include a microchip that holds a digitised facial image, and has space to hold another biometric if needed. Bernard Herdan, chief executive of the UK Passport Service, said the passports would be phased in by February 2006 and completed by July 2006. (Oct. 25, 2005)
  • Pakistan to Use Facial Recognition with Passports. The National Database and Registration Authority of Pakistan is using Viisage Technology's face recognition systems to identify passport holders. NADRA announced this week that it has scanned 34 million images for duplicates in three months. The database was expected to grow to 50 million records once enrollment is complete. (Aug. 31, 2005)
  • NY Train System to Adopt New Electronic Security System. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority has announced that it is working with Lockheed Martin to develop a state-of-the-art electronic security system to enhance security on its trains by using "intelligent video" to monitor suspicious individuals and packages. The system will be adaptable to new technology, such as devices that detect explosives, measure signs of nervousness and recognize faces. The $212 million dollar system has recently come under criticism for its inability to determine whether an object has been left in a garbage can. (Aug. 23, 2005)
  • State Department Requires Digital Photographs. The State Department has decided to implement an identification system for individuals in the Visa Waiver Program that requires those individuals to produce a passport with a digital photograph stored in an integrated circuit chip by October 26, 2006. It is still unknown whether the digital photograph will be used to as a biometric identifier, but many experts have debated the safety of including sensitive information in e-passports that include RFID chips. EPIC has previously issued comments on the related issue of RFID use in US-VISIT. (June 15, 2005)
  • British National ID Plan's Biometrics Use Called Flawed. Under the UK's national ID proposal, face, iris and fingerprint scans will be used to identify people. However, studies have found that biometrics being scanned in the wrong type of light or in shadow could lead to a false identification. One problem, a Home Office minister admitted, is that people with brown eyes could experience difficulties using the national ID cards. The cost of a combined passport and ID card, is estimated at £93 each. The UK House of Commons last week passed the national ID bill; it now moves to the House of Lords. (Oct. 24)
  • Report: Costly National ID Scheme An Unfunded Mandate. The National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group, today released a report documenting pending legislation that pre-empts state authority, including the national ID card created by the recently passed REAL ID Act. NCSL officials estimate the national ID scheme could cost states $13 billion as they try to restructure motor vehicle offices. "The REAL ID Act handcuffs state officials with unworkable, unproven, costly mandates that compel states to enforce federal immigration policy rather than advance the paramount objective of making state-issued identity documents more secure and verifiable, " Sen. Michael Balboni said, in announcing the report. The new ID cards will include biometrics, including digital photographs that can be linked up to facial recognition systems. (Aug. 16)
  • UK Identity Card Bill Introduced in Parliament. The Labour Party introduced its Identity Cards bill in the House of Commons on Monday. The bill, which may cost £18B ($32.6B) over the next 10 years, provides for ID cards that will be tied to the National Identity Register, also established by the bill. As the bill's Explanatory Note states, in the first stage only individuals who apply for "Designated Documents" will be required to register, though the bill provides authority for the government to make registration compulsory for all UK residents. The National Identity Register may eventually include name, date of birth, residence, and immigration status, as well as biometric information and personal history of every individual in the UK. The bill was initially introduced in the House of Parliament last November, but was withdrawn in April pending the outcome of the May 6 general election. (June 2)
  • Congress Passes Controversial ID Bill Without Debate. The Senate yesterday approved the supplemental military spending bill to which the REAL ID Act had been attached. The legislation mandates federal identification standards and requires states DMVs, which have become the targets of identity thieves, to collect sensitive personal information. The new ID cards will include digital photographs that can be linked up to facial recognition systems. Legislators in both parties urged debate and more than 600 organizations opposed the legislation. (May 11)
  • Spotlight: Federal Grants Fund Surveillance Cameras in Nation's Cities. This month, Spotlight on Surveillance turns to the $2 billion that the Department of Homeland Security will provide to state and local governments. Some of this money will be for surveillance cameras that watch people in shopping centers and on public streets, and may even look into homes. Such cameras can be linked to facial recognition systems. Studies have found that such surveillance systems have little impact on crime, and that it is more effective to place officers on the streets and improve lighting in high-crime areas. (May 2)
  • Sweeping ID Bill Faces Opposition in the Senate. A bipartisan coalition of senators is urging debate on a bill that would establish a federal mandate for identification standards across the United States. The REAL ID Act would impose technological standards and verification procedures on the states, many of which are beyond the current capacity of the federal government. The bill is opposed by the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Sen. Richard Durbin also expressed concern this week that REAL ID would repeal earlier legislation that contained "carefully crafted language -- bipartisan language -- to establish standards for States issuing driver's licenses." (Apr. 22)
  • Facial Recognition Linked to Mobile Phones. New software allows personal digital assistants, mobile phones or other handheld devices to use a built-in camera to recognize the face of their owner. The Okao Vision Face Recognition Sensor software by Omron is compatible with the Symbian, Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless, Linux and Itron operating systems. (Mar. 1, 2005)
  • Homeland Security Adopts New Facial Recognition Standard. The Department of Homeland Security has adopted a standard developed by the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS). The standard (INCITS 385) will be used to as the technical criteria for designing equipment such as cameras and software for facial recognition. (Oct. 28, 2004)
  • CATO Institute Holds Biometrics Event. The Cato Institute will be holding an event called "Eye in the Sky and Everywhere Else: Do Biometric Technologies Violate Our Rights?" Speakers included Frances Zelazny, Visionics; Dorothy Denning, Georgetown University; Marc Rotenberg, EPIC; and John D. Woodward, Jr., RAND. (Jan. 24, 2002)
  • Watch the Watchers. An international coalition composed of artists, scientists, engineers, scholars, and others declared December 24 to be "World Subjectrights Day", or "World Sousveillance Day", a day to watch the watchers. Passengers are encouraged to photograph cab drivers, customers to photograph shopkeepers, citizens to photograph the police, etc. There is also a photo competition encouraging participants to send in pictures for inclusion in a national face recognition database. (Dec. 2001)
  • EPIC Event to Explore Privacy Implications of New ID Systems. EPIC holds National Press Club event where experts Whitfield Diffie, Jeffrey Rosen, Richard Smith, Robert Ellis Smith, John Woodward, and Marc Rotenberg discuss privacy issues relating to security and surveillance technologies. (Oct. 22, 2001)

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