Lawmakers Want Answers On Facial Recognition

Democratic lawmakers are seeking a wide-ranging examination of facial recognition technology, including whether data brokers are purchasing images of people for marketing purposes.

"Given the recent advances in commercial facial recognition technology ... we ask that you investigate and evaluate the facial recognition industry," Democratic Senators Roy Wyden (Oregon), Chris Coons (Delaware), Ed Markey (Massachusetts), Cory Booker (New Jersey) and Representative Jerrold Nadler (New York) say in a letter sent Tuesday to the Government Accountability Office.

The letter comes several days after the ACLU reported that facial recognition technology sold by Amazon is flawed. The ACLU tested the technology by comparing a database of 25,000 mugshots with photos of Congress members. The technology incorrectly matched 28 Congress members with people depicted in mugshots. The incorrect matches "were disproportionately of people of color," the ACLU reported.

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Wyden and the other lawmakers are now seeking a probe of facial recognition technology and its possible impact on privacy and civil rights. The lawmakers want the GAO to address numerous about the technology's use by law enforcement agencies, but also ask about the use of facial recognition in marketing.

"Data collection and sale of facial imagery -- and its associated concerns with location tracking -- is a critical policy issue for Congress to understand," they write.

They then pose a series of questions about how vendors compile facial databases, as well as questions about their purchase.

"Please describe the market for selling images, including data brokers that may buy from multiple vendors with the intention of creating individualized profiles for marketing or other purposes," they letter states.

Only a few states, including Illinois, currently regulate collection of biometric data. Illinois requires companies to obtain people's consent before collecting or storing biometric data, including scans of facial geometry. Facebook and Google are currently facing lawsuits for allegedly violating that law by compiling databases of faceprints.

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