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ACLU sues DHS over facial-recognition technology use

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for information on how it has used facial-recognition technology.

The ACLU said it filed the lawsuit in the Southern District Court of New York after DHS and its sub-agencies — Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The ACLU is requesting an injunction requiring the agencies to process its FOIA request immediately.

“Unlike other ways of verifying a person’s identity, face recognition technology can enable persistent government surveillance on a massive scale,” Ashley Gorski, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.

“The public has a right to know when, where, and how the government is using face recognition, and what safeguards, if any, are in place to protect our rights,” Gorski added. “This unregulated surveillance technology threatens to fundamentally alter our free society and is in urgent need of democratic oversight.”

CBP and TSA in recent years have begun to integrate facial-recognition technology, which scans faces for the purpose of identifying them, at points of entry to the United States.

CBP has used the technology since 2017 to check travelers coming in and out of the U.S., although U.S. citizens have been allowed to opt out.

In 2019, DHS floated a plan to implement facial-recognition checkpoints for all airline travelers in the U.S., but pulled it back after outcry from lawmakers.

Facial recognition has received bipartisan scrutiny as its use has grown.

Civil rights groups have panned the technology as unwarranted surveillance, while multiple studies have found that it tends to misidentify women and people of color at comparatively higher rates than men and white people.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency within the Department of Commerce, released an expansive study in December finding that the majority of facial-recognition systems have “demographic differentials” that can worsen their accuracy based on a person’s age, gender or race.

Other groups, and many Republican lawmakers, have raised concerns that even if facial recognition had no bias issues, it would constitute a significant overreach of government power.

Representatives from the DHS testified last month that the facial-recognition software that they use comes from one of the most accurate providers in that study.

Despite rising, bipartisan criticism of facial recognition, there is no federal law specifying when, how or where the technology can be used.

Democratic Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerUS paints murky picture of Russian disinformation on coronavirus Biden faces tricky test in unifying party Democratic senators ask IRS to extend tax filing deadline amid coronavirus outbreak MORE (N.J.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocratic senators ask prison operators for answers on coronavirus plans Senators see tide turning toward Biden after big win Climate group endorses both Sanders and Warren MORE (Ore.) introduced legislation last month that would place a federal moratorium on the use of facial recognition until Congress issues regulations.

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