ACLU Sues to Get Records on U.S. Facial Recognition Gear

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The American Civil Liberties Union sued federal immigration and transportation agencies Thursday, demanding records related to government use of facial-recognition technology that the group said could pose “grave risks to privacy,” the Washington Post reports. The lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act asks a federal court to demand the agencies hand over records related to the face-scanning software’s expanding role in U.S. airports and along the border. The ACLU says the technology raises “profound civil-liberties concerns” and “can enable undetectable, persistent government surveillance on a massive scale.”

The lawsuit could shed new light on a technology deployed by security officials nationwide. ACLU attorneys are seeking communications between the agencies and airlines, as well as details on internal audits and guidelines governing its use. Facial-recognition technology is used at more than 20 airports nationwide to verify travelers’ identification when flying out of the country. U.S. citizens can opt out of the scans, which officials say help speed up boarding at busy gates. Delta Air Lines allows travelers to check their bags by submitting to a facial scan. Privacy advocates argue that the technology could further empower officials to trace Americans en masse. ICE, the FBI, local police forces and other agencies have used the software to scan through driver’s license databases for criminal suspects. In December, the Department of Homeland Security dropped a proposal that would have required all citizens to have their faces scanned when entering or leaving the U.S. Officials have shown interest in continuing to expand the technology’s use. At a congressional hearing last summer, a Customs and Border Protection official said the agency’s facial-recognition and biometric security systems were “the envy of the world.”

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