ACLU is suing the US gov for blocking airport facial recognition probe

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the US government for blocking a probe into the use of facial recognition in airports.

Homeland Security announced in December that it was ditching plans to scan the faces of every person arriving at airports in favour of those who are not US or permanent residents.

Very little information has been given by Homeland Security about what they’re doing with the facial recognition data.

Human rights groups have already made several legal attempts to get Homeland Security to disclose information, but each has been stonewalled.

In a lawsuit filed in a federal district court in New York City on Thursday, it was revealed that the ACLU submitted freedom-of-information requests to Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The agencies had 20 days to respond to the request under US freedom-of-information laws, but none of them did so. Furthermore, none of the agencies explained why they did not respond (an additional 10 days can be granted under certain circumstances).

“That’s why today we and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to order the Department of Homeland Security, CBP, TSA, and ICE to turn over records about the implementation of face surveillance at airports, and their plans to subject travelers to this technology in the future,” the ACLU said in a statement.

“Our lawsuit seeks to make public the government’s contracts with airlines, airports, and other entities pertaining to the use of face recognition at the airport and the border; policies and procedures concerning the acquisition, processing, and retention of our biometric information; and analyses of the effectiveness of facial recognition technology.”

Last time we covered the ACLU, the civil rights group were highlighting the inaccuracy of Amazon’s facial recognition algorithm – especially when identifying people of colour and females.

In the UK, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called this week for the public use of facial recognition to be halted after trials so far have been nothing short of a complete failure.

An initial trial by the Met Police, at the 2016 Notting Hill Carnival, led to not a single person being identified. A follow-up trial the following year led to no legitimate matches but 35 false positives.

An independent report into the Met Police’s facial recognition trials, conducted by Professor Peter Fussey and Dr Daragh Murray last year, concluded that it was only verifiably accurate in just 19 percent of cases.

Serious concerns remain about the use of facial recognition technology and its impacts on our civil liberties. Those concerns are in no way eased when the current technology has been proven to be dangerously inaccurate time and time again.

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