facial recognition (Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock.com)

House committee looks into cities’ facial recognition tech

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has sent letters to 10 big-city mayors asking for their policies related to facial recognition technology.

The letters from Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) were prompted by concerns for privacy of innocent citizens, but the members said they were “particularly alarmed by reports that facial recognition technology is less accurate at identifying people of color.”

The mayors of Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., were asked for information “relating to the retention and use of photographs collected by or accessible to” local law enforcement agencies, manufacturers, providers or federal agencies.  In addition, the mayors were also asked to provide an inventory of their facial recognition technology systems, including information on costs, tech updates and whether federal grants were used to fund any parts of the systems.

The letters suggest the cities were chosen based on information learned at a March 22 hearing on policies governing facial recognition technology, or reports of each city’s experience with the technology.  Specific areas of interest are:

  • Real-time facial recognition technology.
  • Systems that allow searches of databases of driver's licenses ID photos or mugshots .
  • Technology that can identify people driving in and out of a city.
  • Use of the technology to assist in criminal investigations.
  • Public posting of facial recognition policies.
  • Contracts with facial recognition software vendors that stipulate strong accuracy requirements.

The committee requested the information from the mayors so that it can “better understand the technology, legal standards, and policies governing the use of this facial recognition technology ... to safeguard American citizens' privacy and civil liberties.”

Cities have been asked to respond by May 31.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA from West Chester University and an MA in English from the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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