The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has been breaking federal laws related to facial recognition technology—and storing some 411 million photos of U.S. citizens, according to a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, GAO.
The GAO report notes that under federal law the U.S. government has to let people know if they are using personal information and how it is being used. However, the FBI failed to do this on many occasions with its facial recognition technology and the report says that the bureau did not adequately explain the privacy implications while it was developing its technology.
Federal law requires the FBI to complete a Privacy Impact Assessment, or PIA, to provide the public information about data that is being collected. Such assessments are required at the start of federal programs or if there is any significant changes to such programs. The GAO reports that PIAs were only produced in 2008 and 2015, despite significant changes in between.
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The GAO report recommends that the FBI improve its transparency to protect privacy, and also improve the accuracy of its technology.
“We also recommended that they determine why the privacy impact assessments for both uses of FBI's facial recognition technology were not completed and were not made public prior to their initial use,” said Diana Mauer, director of GAO’s homeland security and justice team.
Mauer said that while it is important that law enforcement has access to information to security purposes, “innocent people have a right to know when their pictures are being taken from the department of motor vehicles and provided for FBI's use for investigating criminal leads."
The 411 million photos were located in a number of searchable databases taken from various sources. Many photos were originally collected by state, federal and local law enforcement agencies, including criminal mugshots.
Other photos in the database came from people who needed to apply for criminal background checks, as well as photos from the department of motor vehicles in various states.