A group of House and Senate members from both major political parties urged five Federal agencies in Feb. 9 letters to end their use of facial recognition technologies, particularly those that employ AI tools supplied by software firm Clearview.

The letters – written by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. – were sent to agency leaders at the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), Defense (DoD), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Interior.

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The members of Congress detail in the identical letters how each agency is using facial recognition technology, and how use of the technology can pose a threat to the public’s civil liberties and privacy rights.

“Clearview AI’s technology could eliminate public anonymity in the United States. It reportedly allows users to capture and upload photos of strangers, analyze the photographed individuals’ biometric information, and provide users with existing images and personal information of the photographed individuals found online,” the congressmembers wrote.

“Clearview AI reportedly scrapes billions of photos from social media sites without permission from or notice to the pictured individuals,” they said.

The members of Congress also point out the threat of bias in facial recognition and other AI, and cite a  study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that found that Black, Brown, and Asian males were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than White male faces.

“Use of increasingly powerful technologies like Clearview AI’s have the concerning potential to violate Americans’ privacy rights and exacerbate existing injustices,” they wrote.

“Therefore, as the authors of the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act (S. 2052/H.R. 3907) — which would halt a Federal agency or official from using these technologies — we urge you to stop use of facial recognition tools, including Clearview AI’s products.”

The letter to the five agencies follows on the heels of a decision by the IRS to step away from using private facial recognition technology. Earlier this week, the tax agency announced that it would transition away from ID.me for verifying IRS.gov accounts.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.