The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote an open letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) opposing any efforts by the agency to expand its use of facial recognition technology.

The letter comes after the DHS Science & Technology’s “information collection request on the creation of a survey to assess public opinion about its use of ‘AI in general and facial recognition in particular,’ including for functions such as ‘customs and border protection, transportation security, and investigations’ where it states it has already piloted such technology.”

ACLU is opposing any further use of facial recognition by DHS and is dubious about the premise of DHS’ information collection request relying on the belief that if DHS could understand public perception of facial recognition, it could gain public support for DHS’ use of these technologies.

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ACLU says that the problem with DHS’ facial recognition isn’t an insufficient understanding of how unpopular the technology is. Instead, it says the real problem is that law enforcement use of facial recognition tech causes “serious harm by leading to racially disparate arrests and investigations and facilitating pervasive government surveillance.”

Additionally, ACLU stated that DHS already has access to a long and well-documented public record regarding problems posed by facial recognition technology and AI.

“Most notably, with regard to facial recognition technology, the extensive record details the harms that are abiding and intrinsic to the technology, both when it fails and when it works,” wrote ACLU. “Facial recognition algorithms are well-known for having higher misidentification rates for Black people, people of color, women, and children, which has led to false arrests and mistaken incarceration.”

ACLU says that DHS must deal with the foundational problem of racism and pervasive surveillance posed by using facial recognition, and rather than “self-justifying” survey data, DHS should cease all efforts in expanding the deployment of facial recognition and understand the concerns regarding the technology.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.