GAO's Second Report On Facial Recognition Tech Provides More Details On Federal Use Of Clearview's Unvetted AI
from the still-greater-than-zero-agencies,-unfortunately dept
A couple of months ago, the Government Accountability Office completed the first pass of its review of federal use of facial recognition technology. It found a lot to be concerned about, including the fact that agencies were using unproven tech (like Clearview’s ethical nightmare of a product) and doing very little to ensure the tech was used responsibly.
Some agencies appeared to have no internal oversight of facial recognition tech use, leading to agencies first telling the GAO no one was using the tech, only to update that answer to “more than 1,000 searches” when they had finished doing their first pass at due diligence.
A more complete report [PDF] has been released by the GAO, which includes answers to several questions asked of federal agencies using the tech. Unfortunately, it confirms that many agencies are bypassing what little internal controls are in place by asking state and local agencies to run searches for them. DHS entities (CBP, ICE) did the most freelancing using downstream (governmentally-speaking) databases and tech.
For whatever reason, CBP and ICE (which have access to their own tech) are using agencies in Ohio, Nebraska, Michigan, Kansas, and Missouri (among others) to run searches for criminal suspects and to “support operations.” A whole lot of non-border states are allowing agencies to bypass internal restrictions on use of the tech.
And there’s a whole lot of Clearview use. Too much, in fact, considering the number of agencies using this highly questionable product exceeds zero.
The US Air Force says it engaged in an “operational pilot” beginning in June 2020, utilizing Clearview to run searches on biometric information gathered with “mobile biometric devices, including phones.”
The Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services also apparently used Clearview. The report says the HHS OIG “conducted an evaluation of the system in an attempt to identify unknown subjects of a criminal investigation.” Experimentation, but with the added bonus of possibly infringing on an innocent person’s life and liberty!
Also on the list are CBP, ICE, and US Secret Service. ICE appears to be the only agency actually purchasing Clearview licenses, spending a total of $214,000 in 2020. The CBP, however, is getting its Clearview for free, utilizing the New York State Intelligence Center’s access to run searches. The Secret Service gave Clearview a test drive in 2019 but decided it wasn’t worth buying.
The Department of the Interior says it has both stopped and started using Clearview. Under “Accessed commercial FRT [facial recognition technology] system, the DOI claims:
Interior uses Clearview AI to verify the identity of an individual involved in a crime and research information on a person of interest. Interior may submit photos (e.g., surveillance photos) for matching against the Clearview AI’s repository of facial images from open sources. U.S. Park Police reported it stopped using Clearview AI as of June 2020.
But under “New access to commercial FRT system,” the DOI states:
Interior reported its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began using a trial version of Clearview AI in May 2020, and purchased an annual subscription in June 2020.
The DOI is both a current and former customer, depending on which component you speak to, apparently.
The DOJ is an apparent believer in the power of Clearview, providing access to the ATF, DEA, FBI, and US Marshals Service. But there must be a lot of sharing going on, because the DOJ only purchased $9,000-worth of licenses.
Interestingly, the DOJ also notes it received an upgrade from Axon, which provides body-worn cameras. Axon has apparently added a new feature to its product: “Facial Detection.” Unlike facial recognition, the product does not search for faces to run against a biometric database. Instead, the system “reviews footage” to detect faces, which can then be marked for redaction.
This FRT-related expenditure is also interesting, suggesting the DOJ may actually be trying to quantify the effectiveness of body cameras when it comes to deterring officer misconduct.
DOJ reported that it awarded an $836,000 grant to the Police Foundation for the development of techniques to automate analysis of body worn camera audio and video data of police and community interactions. In particular, these techniques could (1) allow an evaluation of officers’ adherence to principles of procedural justice and (2) validate the ratings generated by the automated process using a randomized control trial comparing software ratings of videos to evaluations performed by human raters under conditions of high and low procedural justice.
Finally, there’s this unnecessarily coy statement by the IRS about its use of commercial facial recognition systems.
A third-party vendor performed facial recognition searches on behalf of the IRS for domestic law enforcement purposes. Additional details on the search are sensitive.
Whatever. It’s probably Clearview. And if it isn’t, it probably will be at some point in the near future, given federal agencies’ apparent comfort with deploying unproven, unvetted tech during criminal investigations.
The report is probably the most comprehensive account of facial recognition tech by the federal government we have to work with at the moment. It shows there’s a lot of it being used, but it hasn’t become completely pervasive. Yet. Most agencies use the tech to do nothing more than identify employees and prevent unauthorized access to sensitive areas. Some agencies are digging into the tech itself in hopes of improving it. But far too many are still using a product which has been marketed with false statements and has yet to have its accuracy tested by independent researchers. That’s a huge problem, and, while it’s not up to the GAO to fix it, the report should at least make legislators aware of an issue that needs to be addressed.