Oversight Committee Holds Second Hearing on Facial Recognition in Federal Law Enforcement

Congressional members have expressed concern over law enforcement’s potentially unauthorized use of facial recognition technology to combat crime. To get to the bottom of the technology’s applications and implications, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform invited representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Government Accountability Office (GAO), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to discuss the issue.

A primary purpose of the hearing was to examine the need for oversight and regulation of this technology to ensure it does not violate the privacy rights of the American people. Lawmakers grilled law enforcement agency leadership on the level of consent provided before images are taken and how images are shared among law enforcement entities.

According to testimony, the FBI maintains one of the largest government facial recognition repositories, which includes approximately 36.4 million photos used by the FBI and state and local law enforcement agencies to conduct facial recognition searches in criminal investigations.

Kimberly J. Del Greco, Deputy Assistant Director of Criminal Justice Information Services at the FBI, noted in her opening statement, “FBI uses facial recognition technology for law enforcement purposes with human review and additional investigation. The FBI's use of facial recognition produces a potential investigative lead and requires investigative follow-up to corroborate the lead before any action is taken.”

Several lawmakers had concerns regarding potential bias in this technology. Representative Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) pointed out that an ACLU study used the facial recognition technology on members of Congress and Gomez himself was mismatched with a Hispanic criminal.

The FBI defended that algorithms do not recognize skin tones and features but assess mathematical facial analysis. Del Greco also clarified that the agency does not conclude one to one matches but allows law enforcement to assess anywhere from two to 50 potential matches.

Representative and Ranking Member Mark Meadows (R-NC) pressed TSA’s Assistant Administrator in Requirements and Capabilities Analysis, Austin Gould, on how the agency received funding for pilot programs involving facial recognition. Meadows recommended that the agency halt use of such pilot programs until Congress decides to appropriate those funds and recommended the agency focus on other areas of inefficiency instead.

Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) expressed interest in bringing the panelists back for another hearing in two months to continue the conversation on facial recognition.

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