The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch will testify Wednesday at a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about what the organization calls “the FBI’s efforts to build up and link together massive facial recognition databases that may be used to track innocent people as they go about their daily lives.”

The purpose of the hearing include:

  • To review the current state of facial recognition technology (FRT), its various uses, benefits, and challenges, and to evaluate if legislation is necessary.
  • To examine the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) use of FRT and the FBI policies that govern the recording, retention, and use of photographs by law enforcement.

The EFF has previously stated that it has been closely following the FBI’s work to build out its Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometrics database. NGI expands the FBI’s IAFIS criminal and civil fingerprint database to include multimodal biometric identifiers such as iris scans, palm prints, face-recognition-ready photos, and voice data, and makes that data available to other agencies at the state and federal levels. 

The FBI’s Next Generation Identification system includes an Interstate Photo System that allows the FBI and selected state and local law enforcement to search a database of over 30 million photos, according to information from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The FBI also has agreements with at least 17 states that allow it to request a FRT search of state driver’s license databases.

In a report from the Georgetown Law Center for Privacy and Technology, researchers compare the use of facial recognition to a perpetual line-up, where everyday, law-abiding citizens are pulled into law enforcement investigations without their consent and, in many cases, without their knowledge.

According to the report:

  • One in two American adults has their image in a facial recognition network, impacting more than 117 million people.
  • At least five large cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas, use or have considered using facial recognition to scan the faces of pedestrians in real time with surveillance cameras.
  • Facial recognition is almost completely unregulated. No states have passed comprehensive laws limiting facial recognition, and only one of 52 agencies surveyed expressly forbids police from using facial recognition to surveil people engaged in political, religious, or other First Amendment protected activities.

Lynch will testify that the use of facial recognition technology will allow the government to track Americans on an unprecedented level, according to the EFF. The technology, like other biometric programs, such as fingerprint and DNA collection, poses critical threats to privacy and civil liberties, added the organization.