The American Civil Liberties Union is looking to find out how the government may be using facial recognition technology on citizens. The ACLU on Tuesday filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Justice asking for the government to release any records of the technology and how it may be used by the FBI and DEA.
Facial recognition technology has the capability to potentially track people for security and for data collection by giant retailers. While there are obvious security benefits such as using the technology to scan through a database of known criminals’ facial features, there are important civil liberties questions that need to be answered.
The debate centers around the Fourth Amendment, which limits the government from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” This amendment has been used to require police officers to obtain a warrant when searching people, cars or anything with a reasonable expectation of privacy. While courts have over the years reduced Fourth Amendment rights for people who have been convicted of a crime and, for example, are on probation, the question about whether retailers can track people without their consent remains unanswered.
If every time you walk into a store some camera identifies your face and links to a database that can analyze what other stores you have recently walked into, your privacy has clearly been violated without your knowledge or consent. Certainly some large companies want this data collection to continue. They can use this data to analyze and market to customers better, as well as sell the data to other companies and use this violation of privacy for profit.
Big government supporters will also argue the technology will prevent future crimes from taking place by alerting officials if a known criminal enters a certain area. But the camera scanning for the particular individual will also scan all the innocent bystanders. All of their facial features will also be stored in a database without their consent. This is also a violation of their privacy.
While there are still many unanswered questions about this facial recognition technology, the ACLU is looking to get to the bottom of this story. Let’s hope they do so soon.