Facial Recognition

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  • EPIC, Coalition Call for Ban on Corporate Use of Facial Recognition + (Apr. 14, 2021)
    In an open letter released today, EPIC and twenty four civil rights and social justice organizations called on elected officials to ban corporate, private, and government use of facial recognition technology, suggesting Portland, OR's recent ban on facial recognition as a model. The letter also urges corporate leaders to ban the technology within their companies. The coalition notes recent uses of facial recognition to monitor workers and instances of wrongful firings when facial recognition systems mis-identified black gig workers. EPIC and a coalition recently urged New York City Council to enact a comprehensive ban on facial recognition. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • Virginia to Ban Local Police from Using Facial Recognition + (Apr. 9, 2021)
    A bill passed in Virginia will ban local law-enforcement agencies from using facial recognition technology without prior legislative approval starting July 1, 2021. The bill further requires any local police agency eventually authorized to have "exclusive control" over the facial recognition system, preventing the use of Clearview AI and other commercial FR products. However, Virginia State Police and other state law enforcement agencies may continue to use facial recognition. EPIC and a coalition recently urged New York City Council to enact a comprehensive ban on facial recognition. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge New York City Council to Enact Comprehensive Ban on Government Use of Facial Recognition + (Mar. 30, 2021)
    EPIC and a coalition of civil-rights and community-based organizations submitted a letter to New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson urging the council to introduce a comprehensive ban on government use of facial recognition. The letter highlights NYPD's use of facial recognition along with other NYC agencies, the potential for far-reaching surveillance posed by facial recognition technology, and the risk of errors from racial bias in facial recognition algorithms and poor police practices. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition, gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
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  • EPIC Seeks Documents on Protest Monitoring and Advanced Surveillance Technologies from Federally-Funded Fusion Centers + (Mar. 18, 2021)
    EPIC filed a series of open government requests seeking information on fusion centers' role in monitoring Black Lives Matter protests this summer and on fusion centers' possession of advanced surveillance technologies including location tracking services, cell phone data extraction tools, facial recognition, and social media monitoring tools. EPIC sent requests to federally funded fusion centers in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Northern California, and North Dakota. Fusion centers are state or regional intelligence units that provide police with access to advanced surveillance technologies while relaying information to the Department of Homeland Security. EPIC previously urged DHS's DPIAC committee to investigate fusion centers and recommend ending federal funding of fusion centers.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge DHS to Rescind CBP's Proposed Biometrics Rulemaking + (Mar. 10, 2021)
    In a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, EPIC and a coalition of civil rights, civil liberties, immigrant's rights, technology, and privacy organizations urged the agency to rescind a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking massively expanding Customs and Border Protection's (CBP's) use of biometrics, and to suspend the use of facial recognition across DHS. The NPRM was originally issued November 19, 2020 and re-published on February 9, 2021 in a sign that DHS and the Biden Administration intend to go forward with the rulemaking. EPIC submitted comments on the original NPRM, urging CBP to suspend its use of facial recognition, or in the alternative use only 1:1 face comparison. Earlier, EPIC voiced opposition to a broader DHS rulemaking authorizing widespread use of biometrics, including facial recognition, throughout the agency.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call on Biden Administration to Abandon "Virtual Border Wall," Invest in Migrant Communities + (Feb. 25, 2021)
    In letter to the Biden administration, EPIC and a coalition of 40 privacy, immigration, and civil liberties organizations urged the administration to abandon the proposed U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 as an extension of the Trump administration's border policy. The proposed legislation would direct DHS to deploy a bevy of biometric and other surveillance technologies at points of entry and along the southern border. The letter describes how such technologies endanger the lives of migrants by pushing them onto more dangerous travel routes. The use of surveillance technologies at the border inevitably extends into the interior, where they are deployed against protesters, communities of color, and indigenous peoples. EPIC recently urged DHS to rescind a proposed rule increasing the agency's collection of biometric information.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge NYPD to Limit Use of Surveillance Technologies and Disclose More Information on Their Use + (Feb. 25, 2021)
    In comments to the New York Police Department, EPIC called for meaningful limits on the use of mass surveillance technologies including facial recognition, airplanes and drones, automated license plate readers, and social media monitoring tools. EPIC also joined with privacy and civil liberties advocates and academics in coalition comments urging the NYPD to make a good faith effort to meet the requirements of the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technologies (POST) Act. The POST Act requires the NYPD to publish impact statements and use policies for 36 surveillance technologies. The Department's draft policies fail to disclose necessary information including detailed data storage, retention, and auditing practices, do not name the vendors of these technologies, and gloss over systemic racial discrimination in the use of these technologies with boilerplate language. The disclosures illuminate the use of technologies by the NYPD that enable mass surveillance and have extensive documented risks of bias and inaccuracy. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance, and through the Public Voice coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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


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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