The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Justice Department (DoJ) still have more work to do to boost the accuracy of facial recognition technology (FRT) they use and to ensure privacy of data used with that technology.

That’s the message from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a June 4 report that covers FBI and DoJ FRT use through May of this year. GAO’s most recent report updates previous recommendations issued since the FBI fully launched FRT tech use in its biometric identification operations in May 2015.

GAO first audited FRT use in May 2016 and found that DoJ and the FBI could “improve transparency and oversight to better safeguard privacy and had limited information on accuracy of its face recognition technology.” At that time, GAO issued six recommendations for the agencies to address, and as of May 2019, they had only addressed three of them.

As of 2016, DoJ had not completed or published privacy documents for FBI FRT in a timely manner, and GAO suggested that DoJ develop two documents to address the problem. The first is a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) to analyze how personal information is collected, stored, shared, and managed in Federal systems.  The second is a System of Records Notice (SORN), which informs the public about the FBI’s use of FRT systems and what data they collect.

In its most recent report, GAO said DoJ has accelerated its process of developing PIAs, but has not done so with SORNs, and recommended that DoJ address the latter.

GAO also found the FBI has taken little action in ensuring accuracy of FRT, and said the agency:

  • Only conducted limited assessments of facial recognition search accuracy prior to deploying its facial recognition system;
  • Not assessed accuracy of the facial recognition systems of its external partners, such as state and Federal agencies; and
  • Not conducted an annual review to determine if facial recognition search accuracy was meeting user needs.

Although GAO acknowledged that FBI and DoJ have worked on addressing the watchdog agency’s concerns, it stressed the importance of addressing them to ensure responsible implementation of FRT programs like Next Generation Identification-Interstate Photo System (NGI-IPS) and the FBI’s Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation (FACE) Service.

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Melissa Harris