Reacting to concerns about the mass collection of photographs in police databases, U.S. lawmakers plan to introduce legislation to limit the use of facial recognition technology by the FBI and other law enforcement organizations. The FBI and police departments across the country can search a group of databases containing more than 400 million photographs, many of them from the drivers' licenses of people who have never committed a crime. The photos of more than half of U.S adults are contained in a series of FBI and state databases, according to one study released in October. Law enforcement agencies don't need a court-ordered warrant to search the database, members of the House of Representataties Oversight and Government Reform Committee noted during a hearing Wednesday. Yet, the facial recognition system spits out false positive results about 15 percent of the time, with inaccuracies higher when police search for African-Americans and other racial minorities, critics said.
This week we learned that ICE has searched millions of American driver's license photos, using facial recognition tools; the aim - to look for immigrants who are in this country illegally. Now privacy rights supporters and immigration advocates are calling for more transparency and oversight. But as NPR's Joel Rose reports, some version of all this has happened once before. JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Dozens of protesters gathered in Manhattan yesterday outside the office of a tech company that's growing but still unknown to many Americans. UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: You hear that, Palantir?
Now we're going to look more broadly at what's been revealed today about ICE turning to DMV offices for help with facial recognition - that is, using driver's license photographs and algorithms to identify people suspected of being in the country illegally. Now, this collaboration was unearthed by a team at Georgetown University, and here to brief us is NPR's Aarti Shahani. CORNISH: I understand that in the past, ICE has gone to DMV offices and just asked for records on immigrants. We just heard about the case in Vermont that alleges that much. What exactly is new here?
Fifty civil rights groups have signed a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate police use of facial-recognition databases following a report that half of America's adults have their images stored in at least one searchable facial-recognition database used by local, state and federal authorities They argue the technology disproportionately affects minorities and has minimal oversight. Researchers even found The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in Arizona has enrolled all of Honduras' driver's licenses and mug shots into its database. States in dark blue use drivers license photos in police facial recognition databases. Red dots represent other jurisdictions using facial recognition. Of the 52 agencies that acknowledged using face recognition, only one obtained legislative approval for its use and only one agency provided evidence that it audited officers' face recognition searches for misuse.
Whenever you upload a photo of yourself or your friends to Facebook, the social network uses a facial-recognition algorithm to identify who's in the picture -- and then suggests that you tag them. This might strike some as a little creepy, but at least it's relatively transparent. The same may not be true of a massive facial-recognition setup used by the FBI, which not only combs through pictures of criminals but also allows law enforcement to search the faces of millions of other law-abiding citizens without their knowledge. And now a top federal watchdog says the program risks putting countless Americans under needless suspicion because of the system's lack of safeguards. The FBI has access to more than 410 million photographs of people's faces.