Lawmakers Question Integrity of FBI’s Facial Recognition Program
The bureau for years ignored concerns about the accuracy and transparency of its facial recognition efforts, and the House Oversight Committee isn’t happy about it.
Lawmakers on Tuesday grilled federal law enforcement officials on the integrity and legality of the government’s facial recognition programs, and criticized the nearly nonexistent oversight Congress has over those programs.
During a hearing, members of the House Oversight Committee questioned witnesses on the steps being taken to ensure the facial recognition tools used by their agencies aren’t infringing on individuals’ privacy and civil liberties. By and large, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seemed unsatisfied with their answers.
And while the committee criticized law enforcement’s facial recognition efforts en masse, much of their attention focused on the FBI’s use of the tech.
Lawmakers criticized Kimberly Del Greco, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services division, over the bureau’s failure to correct multiple flaws in the way it evaluates its primary facial recognition tool. In 2016, the Government Accountability Office issued six recommendations to ensure the tech, known as the Next Generation Identification-Interstate Photo System, meets federal privacy and accuracy standards. As of Tuesday, auditors said the bureau had only put one of the fixes in place.
Gretta Goodwin, director of GAO’s Homeland Security and Justice office, found the FBI never published key privacy documents related to the NGI-IPS. The bureau also failed to test the accuracy of both its own facial recognition system and the software provided by its various partners, which include the State and Defense departments, and some 21 state governments.
According to Goodwin, the NGI-IPS database contains some 36 million criminal mugshots but combined with the other image databases provided by its partners, the FBI can run facial recognition software against some 640 million total photos.
The FBI disagrees with GAO’s assessment of its privacy disclosure requirements, Del Greco said, and has since conducted accuracy tests of its own system with the help of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Goodwin said GAO has yet to see the results of the test.
“It will be important that [the Justice Department] takes steps to ensure the transparency of the systems so that the public is kept informed about how personal information is being used and protected, that the implementation of the technology protects individuals privacy and that the technology and systems used are accurate and are being used appropriately,” Goodwin said.