Senators to GAO: Time to investigate facial recognition technology

Lawmakers take issue with the tech's potential impact on surveillance, privacy and civil liberties.
By Bernie Monegain
10:15 AM
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U.S. Senators and Representatives called on a federal government watchdog to investigate the pros and cons of facial recognition technology. 

“Given the recent advances in commercial facial recognition technology – and its expanded use by state, local, and federal law enforcement, particularly the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – we ask that you investigate and evaluate the facial recognition industry and its government use,” they wrote in a letter sent to the sent to the Government Accountability Office this week. 

While the letter, signed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Sens. Ron Wyden, Chris Coons, Ed Markey and Cory Booker, focused on the use of facial recognition in law enforcement, healthcare organizations testing or deploying facial recognition and biometrics would be smart to keep an eye on whatever comes out of GAO investigation, presuming it obliges. 

[Also: Biometrics entering a new era in healthcare]

That letter, in fact, is the second facial recognition issue to arise, recently. Earlier this week another group of Democrats responded to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union indicating Amazon’s facial recognition software had misidentified dozens of members of Congress and added that the software was even less accurate in identifying people of color.

The lawmakers are asking the GAO to investigate whether commercial businesses that sell facial recognition technology are adequately audited to make sure they are not breaking any laws, such as privacy, civil right and civil liberties issues -- all of which hospitals grapple with on an ongoing basis. 

"Serious concerns have been raised about the dangers facial recognition can pose to privacy and civil rights, especially when it is used as a tool of government surveillance, as well as the accuracy of the technology and its disproportionate impact on communities of color," Markey and three additional House Democrats wrote last week to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. 

As for Amazon, the company noted that it employs the software mostly to help law enforcement prevent crime or find lost children.

“It is worth noting that in real-world scenarios, Amazon Rekognition is almost exclusively used to help narrow the field and allow humans to expeditiously review and consider options using their judgment (and not to make fully autonomous decisions), where it can help find lost children, restrict human trafficking, or prevent crimes,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. 

Twitter: @Bernie_HITN
Email the writer: bernie.monegain@himssmedia.com