GAO Reports More Negatives Than Positives to Police Use of Facial Recognition, Highlights Need for Comprehensive Data Privacy Law 

April 29, 2024

In a report published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on April 22, 2024, the agency surveyed federal agencies, biometric tech vendors, academics, and advocacy groups to understand the impact of biometric technologies. EPIC was one of the groups consulted. The GAO focused primarily on facial recognition, finding that even the best algorithms retain racial and gender biases in controlled laboratory testing. The agency also concluded that the reported negative impacts of facial recognition outnumbered positive impacts for law enforcement use of facial recognition. GAO noted serious privacy, civil rights, effectiveness, and transparency concerns across all uses of biometrics. The agency recorded numerous examples of biometric technology exacerbating systemic inequities when used for policing and border enforcement, access to government benefits, and commercial settings.  

In response to serious identified harms, the GAO identified key considerations to prevent harms from biometric technologies, many of which align with the National Academy of Sciences recommendations for facial recognition. Those considerations were:  1) much more rigorous performance testing across biometric technologies, 2) promoting transparency into how the government and vendors design and operate biometric systems, and the limitations of those systems, 3) taking a risk-based approach to rules, guidance, and use of biometric technologies, 4) instituting comprehensive data privacy laws, and 5) improving training and guidance. In particular, the GAO recognized that when a system’s “risks to rights or safety exceed an acceptable level and where mitigation strategies do not sufficiently reduce risk, agencies must stop using the AI system as soon as is practicable.” 

Earlier this year, EPIC submitted comments in response to DOJ and DHS’ Request for Written Submissions on Sec. 13e of ~Executive Order 14074~ urging DOJ and DHS to center vulnerable communities in its crafting of new guidance on the use of facial recognition, predictive policing technologies, social media surveillance tools, and DNA analysis tools. EPIC also submitted comments on facial recognition to the US Commission on Civil Rights . EPIC’s recent comments to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on improving Privacy Impact Assessments highlighted the ways agencies currently fail to account for the harms of biometrics technologies including facial recognition.

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