Members of Congress are intensifying calls for a temporary ban on the federal government’s use of facial recognition technology after the disclosure that the FBI has amassed a database of more than 640 million photographs, reports The Hill. The figure from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) mentioned during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Tuesday stunned lawmakers. “640 million photos,” repeated Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “There are only 330 million people in the country.” The FBI’s database includes 36 million mugshot photos and 21 state driver’s license directories to aid in identifying people.
Kimberly Del Greco, an FBI deputy assistant director, emphasized that the bureau uses facial recognition technology only to help with ongoing criminal investigations. That failed to assuage lawmakers from both parties, who accused federal agencies of failing to implement adequate privacy and accuracy guardrails before deploying the technology. They warned that the committee is planning to take concrete steps to address those concerns. After the hearing, members from both parties told The Hill they would support a full moratorium on facial recognition technology until stakeholders can address civil rights and liberties concerns. The disclosure of the FBI database comes as the debate over facial recognition technology, which analyzes people’s faces for the purposes of identifying them, intensifies. A coalition of privacy and civil rights groups have been calling for an all-out ban on its use by the government. Last month, San Francisco became the first city to ban its city government agencies from using facial recognition technology, and similar proposals are being weighed in other cities.