Facial Recognition

Latest News/Events

  • Washington Post Calls for Federal Moratorium on Facial Recognition + (Jun. 3, 2021)
    The Washington Post Editorial Board called on Congress to impose a nationwide moratorium on facial recognition technology until it can pass legislation requiring technical and legal safeguards for the use of the technology. The Post cited the recent shutdown of a DC-area facial recognition system after an EPIC-led coalition organized against the system. In 2019, EPIC launched the Ban Face Surveillance campaign and through the Public Voice coalition gathered the support of over 100 organizations and many leading experts across 30 plus countries. An EPIC-led coalition urged the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government. EPIC has joined with other organizations to oppose school administrators' use of facial recognition, urge President Biden to halt the federal use of facial recognition, and press Congress to stop the use and investment in facial recognition. Most recently, EPIC joined over 40 other organizations to detail the issues with cops using facial recognition and call for a law enforcement ban on the technology's use.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call for Ban on Law Enforcement Use of Facial Recognition + (Jun. 3, 2021)
    In a statement of concerns, EPIC and a coalition of more than 40 privacy, civil liberties, immigrants rights, and good government groups stated that "the most comprehensive approach to addressing the harms of face recognition would be to entirely cease its use by law enforcement." The statement lists six concerns with police use of the technology that can only be addressed by halting its use. The coalition calls for a moratorium or ban on use of facial recognition and urges Congress to not preempt state or local bans in any federal legislation addressing facial recognition. EPIC recently organized a coalition letter that led to the shutdown of a DC-area facial recognition system previously used on Black Lives Matter protesters. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition has gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • King County, WA Bans Local Government Use of Facial Recognition + (Jun. 2, 2021)
    An ordinance passed in King County, Washington bans "any person or entity acting on behalf of a King County administrative office or executive department" fromusing facial recognition technology or information derived from it. The ban includes the King County Sheriffs Department. Seattle's King County is the first county in the nation to ban government use of facial recognition technology. EPIC recently sought records on the US Postal Service's Internet Covert Operations Program use of Clearview AI facial recognition and other surveillance software. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition has gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
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  • After EPIC-Led Coalition Letter, DC Area Facial Recognition System Will Shut Down + (May. 14, 2021)
    The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) informed EPIC today that the National Capital Region Facial Recognition System (NCR-FRILS) will be shut down by July 1, 2021. The system is used by police departments and government agencies in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area. EPIC led a coalition that recently sent a letter to the MWCOG demanding an end to the system citing the dangerous nature of facial recognition and racial bias in facial recognition software. A recently passed law in Virginia requiring approval from the General Assembly before using facial recognition was going to curtail NCR-FRILS use in that state. The facial recognition system was first disclosed last year after it was used to identify a protester at a Black Lives Matter rally who was accused of assault.
  • Biden Administration Abandons DHS Plans to Expand Biometric Collection + (May. 11, 2021)
    According to a news report, the Biden Administration plans to rescind a proposed rule to massively expand the collection of biometric information from immigrants. The rule, proposed towards the end of the Trump Administration, would have granted the Department of Homeland Security broad authority to collect biometric data from immigrants and their families and associates. The rule would have enabled the collecting of palm prints, iris images, voiceprints, DNA, and images for facial recognition regardless of age. In comments to the Department of Homeland Security, EPIC opposed the rule and urged the agency to rescind the proposed rule. EPIC argued that DHS']s broad authorization to collect biometrics was incompatible with the Department's Fair Information Practice Principle. EPIC also specifically called on the agency to suspend the use of facial recognition technology. Last year, EPIC, joined by over 40 organizations called for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge End to DC-Area Facial Recognition System + (Apr. 28, 2021)
    In a letter to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, an EPIC-led coalition of privacy, civil liberties, and good government groups urged the Council to end the National Capital Region Facial Recognition System (NCR-FRILS) project and disclose all documents associated with it. In a Washington Post article covering the coalition letter, EPIC Senior Counsel, Jeramie Scott, argued that "facial recognition is a particularly invasive surveillance technology that undermines democracy and First Amendment rights." NCR-FRILS is a facial recognition system used by police departments and government agencies in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area. The system runs comparisons against a database of 1.4 million local mug shots. The project was never publicly announced and was only revealed during the prosecution of a Black Lives Matter protester last fall. EPIC previously submitted a series of open government requests to police departments in the DC-area seeking more information on the system.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call for Ban on Corporate Use of Facial Recognition + (Apr. 14, 2021)
    In an open letter released today, EPIC and twenty four civil rights and social justice organizations called on elected officials to ban corporate, private, and government use of facial recognition technology, suggesting Portland, OR's recent ban on facial recognition as a model. The letter also urges corporate leaders to ban the technology within their companies. The coalition notes recent uses of facial recognition to monitor workers and instances of wrongful firings when facial recognition systems mis-identified black gig workers. EPIC and a coalition recently urged New York City Council to enact a comprehensive ban on facial recognition. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • Virginia to Ban Local Police from Using Facial Recognition + (Apr. 9, 2021)
    A bill passed in Virginia will ban local law enforcement agencies from using facial recognition technology without prior legislative approval starting July 1, 2021. Even when such approval is given, the bill further requires local police agencies to have "exclusive control" over the facial recognition systems they use, preventing the use of Clearview AI and other commercial FR products. However, Virginia State Police and other state law enforcement agencies may continue to use facial recognition without legislative approval. EPIC and a coalition recently urged New York City Council to enact a comprehensive ban on facial recognition. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge New York City Council to Enact Comprehensive Ban on Government Use of Facial Recognition + (Mar. 30, 2021)
    EPIC and a coalition of civil-rights and community-based organizations submitted a letter to New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson urging the council to introduce a comprehensive ban on government use of facial recognition. The letter highlights NYPD's use of facial recognition along with other NYC agencies, the potential for far-reaching surveillance posed by facial recognition technology, and the risk of errors from racial bias in facial recognition algorithms and poor police practices. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition, gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • EPIC Seeks Documents on Protest Monitoring and Advanced Surveillance Technologies from Federally-Funded Fusion Centers + (Mar. 18, 2021)
    EPIC filed a series of open government requests seeking information on fusion centers' role in monitoring Black Lives Matter protests this summer and on fusion centers' possession of advanced surveillance technologies including location tracking services, cell phone data extraction tools, facial recognition, and social media monitoring tools. EPIC sent requests to federally funded fusion centers in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Northern California, and North Dakota. Fusion centers are state or regional intelligence units that provide police with access to advanced surveillance technologies while relaying information to the Department of Homeland Security. EPIC previously urged DHS's DPIAC committee to investigate fusion centers and recommend ending federal funding of fusion centers.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge DHS to Rescind CBP's Proposed Biometrics Rulemaking + (Mar. 10, 2021)
    In a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, EPIC and a coalition of civil rights, civil liberties, immigrant's rights, technology, and privacy organizations urged the agency to rescind a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking massively expanding Customs and Border Protection's (CBP's) use of biometrics, and to suspend the use of facial recognition across DHS. The NPRM was originally issued November 19, 2020 and re-published on February 9, 2021 in a sign that DHS and the Biden Administration intend to go forward with the rulemaking. EPIC submitted comments on the original NPRM, urging CBP to suspend its use of facial recognition, or in the alternative use only 1:1 face comparison. Earlier, EPIC voiced opposition to a broader DHS rulemaking authorizing widespread use of biometrics, including facial recognition, throughout the agency.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call on Biden Administration to Abandon "Virtual Border Wall," Invest in Migrant Communities + (Feb. 25, 2021)
    In letter to the Biden administration, EPIC and a coalition of 40 privacy, immigration, and civil liberties organizations urged the administration to abandon the proposed U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 as an extension of the Trump administration's border policy. The proposed legislation would direct DHS to deploy a bevy of biometric and other surveillance technologies at points of entry and along the southern border. The letter describes how such technologies endanger the lives of migrants by pushing them onto more dangerous travel routes. The use of surveillance technologies at the border inevitably extends into the interior, where they are deployed against protesters, communities of color, and indigenous peoples. EPIC recently urged DHS to rescind a proposed rule increasing the agency's collection of biometric information.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge NYPD to Limit Use of Surveillance Technologies and Disclose More Information on Their Use + (Feb. 25, 2021)
    In comments to the New York Police Department, EPIC called for meaningful limits on the use of mass surveillance technologies including facial recognition, airplanes and drones, automated license plate readers, and social media monitoring tools. EPIC also joined with privacy and civil liberties advocates and academics in coalition comments urging the NYPD to make a good faith effort to meet the requirements of the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technologies (POST) Act. The POST Act requires the NYPD to publish impact statements and use policies for 36 surveillance technologies. The Department's draft policies fail to disclose necessary information including detailed data storage, retention, and auditing practices, do not name the vendors of these technologies, and gloss over systemic racial discrimination in the use of these technologies with boilerplate language. The disclosures illuminate the use of technologies by the NYPD that enable mass surveillance and have extensive documented risks of bias and inaccuracy. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance, and through the Public Voice coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.


Facial recognition systems are computer-based security systems that are able to automatically detect and identify human faces. These systems depend on a recognition algorithm, such as eigenface or the hidden Markov model. The first step for a facial recognition system is to recognize a human face and extract it fro the rest of the scene. Next, the system measures nodal points on the face, such as the distance between the eyes, the shape of the cheekbones and other distinguishable features. These nodal points are then compared to the nodal points computed from a database of pictures in order to find a match. Obviously, such a system is limited based on the angle of the face captured and the lighting conditions present. New technologies are currently in development to create three-dimensional models of a person's face based on a digital photograph in order to create more nodal points for comparison. However, such technology is inherently susceptible to error given that the computer is extrapolating a three-dimensional model from a two-dimensional photograph.

Throughout the nation and the world, the debate on the privacy implications of face recognition and other surveillance technologies is heating up. In January 2001, the city of Tampa, Florida used the technology to scan the faces of people in crowds at the Super Bowl, comparing them with images in a database of digital mug shots. Privacy International subsequently gave the 2001 Big Brother Award for "Worst Public Official" to the City of Tampa for spying on Super Bowl attendees. Tampa then installed cameras equipped with face recognition technology in their Ybor City nightlife district, where they have encountered opposition from people wearing masks and making obscene gestures at the cameras. In late August 2001, a member of the Jacksonville, Florida City Council proposed legislation to keep the technology out of Jacksonville.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services gave a $150,000 grant to the city of Virginia Beach in July 2001, to help the city obtain face recognition cameras to look for criminal suspects and missing children. Although officials had initially expressed mixed feelings about the technology, the city council voted on November 13 to install the software at the oceanfront. To fully fund the system, the city must pay an additional $50,000.

In the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., privacy advocates, citizen groups, political leaders, and the manufacturers of the technology itself are debating whether these technologies should be more widely used, and if so, how they should be regulated to protect the privacy of the public. Some airports are considering installing face recognition cameras as a security measure. However, T.F. Green International Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, one of the first airports to consider it, decided in January 2002 that they would not install it after all, citing the possibility of false matches and other technological shortcomings of facial recognition systems.

Subsequently, in August of 2003, the Tampa Police Department scrapped Ybor City's facial-recognition system, citing the system's ineffectiveness as bearing heavily on their decision. Virginia Beach's system is still in place, however, it has never produced a match or arrest since its installation in 2002. Boston's Logan Airport ran two separate facial recognition system tests at its security checkpoints using volunteers posing as terrorists over a three-month period and posted disappointing results. Throughout the testing period, the systems correctly identified the volunteers 153 times and failed to identify the volunteers 96 times. As a result of the lackluster success rate of only 61.4 percent, the airport decided to explore other technologies for securing its checkpoints

Recently, the focus on facial recognition systems has shifted to its use as a way to secure borders. The United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program requires visitors of the United States to provide fingerprints and a digital photograph at their port of entry. US-VISIT then interfaces with the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) database to check and see if the visitor is a "person of interest." Similarly, the Real ID Act of 2005 would include an integrated computer chip in every driver's license issued after May 2008 that contains a digital photograph, which could be used for facial recognition purposes.

News Items


Reports on Facial Recognition

Previous Top News

  • International Police Organization Proposes Worldwide Facial Recognition System. Interpol, the Europe-based international law enforcement group, has proposed an automated face-recognition system for international borders. Such a system could require travelers to undergo face scans, and make the information available to numerous countries. An Interpol face-recognition database would permit Interpol member nations to search records containing travelers' personal biometric information, and could be used in conjunction with travel watch lists. The inaccuracy of facial recognition technology has repeatedly been criticized. Privacy watchdogs have questioned the efficacy and wisdom of government programs that collect ever-more personal information at border crossings. "We need to get our data to the border entry points. There will be such a large role in the future for fingerprints and facial recognition," said Mark Branchflower, head of Interpol's fingerprint unit. (Oct. 20, 2008)
  • Companies Use Surveillance Cameras for Advertising Studies. Surveillance cameras have long been used as anti-crime devices. However, companies are now seeking to use surveillance cameras to watch people for advertising research. In Germany, developers are placing video cameras into street advertisements and attempting to discern people's emotional reactions to the ads. Dutch researchers are using experimental emotion-recognition software to test individuals' reactions to advertisements and marketing. (July 10, 2007)
  • Federal Air Marshals to Surreptitiously Photograph Travelers. The US Department of Homeland Security is investing in face recognition technology so that federal marshals can surreptitiously photograph people in airports, bus and train stations, and elsewhere to check whether they are in terrorist databases. The Los Angeles police department already is using handheld facial recognition devices. See EPIC's Video Surveillance page. (May 10, 2007)
  • British Police Look to Build National Mugshot Database. The Police Information Technology Organisation aims to create a national database of still and video facial images, tattoos, and other imagery linked to criminal biographical information. They are also looking into how they can incorporate facial recognition software into the mugshot database for the police forces of England, Scotland, and Wales. (Jan. 16, 2006)
  • New German E-Passports Thwarted by People Smiling. Germany started issuing biometric passports a week ago but problems have been caused by people smiling and visible teeth. Germany has had to issue guidelines warning that people "must have a neutral facial expression and look straight at the camera." Germany, Belgium and Sweden are the three EU countries offering biometric passports. (Nov. 10, 2005)
  • Spotlight: Facial Recognition Systems Don't Picture Privacy. This month, Spotlight focuses on facial recognition systems. The Department of Homeland Security has spent millions of dollars on these "smart" cameras that attempt to identify people based on their facial images. However, several tests show the systems are not reliable. Facial recognition systems also create significant privacy risks: the cameras are often hidden and there are no laws to prevent abuse. (Nov. 4, 2005)
  • UK Will Have E-passports With Facial Recognition in 2006. The United Kingdom plans to have e-passports equipped with facial biometrics and ID cards early next year. The UK government also plans to include fingerprints in both by 2009. The passports include a microchip that holds a digitised facial image, and has space to hold another biometric if needed. Bernard Herdan, chief executive of the UK Passport Service, said the passports would be phased in by February 2006 and completed by July 2006. (Oct. 25, 2005)
  • Pakistan to Use Facial Recognition with Passports. The National Database and Registration Authority of Pakistan is using Viisage Technology's face recognition systems to identify passport holders. NADRA announced this week that it has scanned 34 million images for duplicates in three months. The database was expected to grow to 50 million records once enrollment is complete. (Aug. 31, 2005)
  • NY Train System to Adopt New Electronic Security System. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority has announced that it is working with Lockheed Martin to develop a state-of-the-art electronic security system to enhance security on its trains by using "intelligent video" to monitor suspicious individuals and packages. The system will be adaptable to new technology, such as devices that detect explosives, measure signs of nervousness and recognize faces. The $212 million dollar system has recently come under criticism for its inability to determine whether an object has been left in a garbage can. (Aug. 23, 2005)
  • State Department Requires Digital Photographs. The State Department has decided to implement an identification system for individuals in the Visa Waiver Program that requires those individuals to produce a passport with a digital photograph stored in an integrated circuit chip by October 26, 2006. It is still unknown whether the digital photograph will be used to as a biometric identifier, but many experts have debated the safety of including sensitive information in e-passports that include RFID chips. EPIC has previously issued comments on the related issue of RFID use in US-VISIT. (June 15, 2005)
  • British National ID Plan's Biometrics Use Called Flawed. Under the UK's national ID proposal, face, iris and fingerprint scans will be used to identify people. However, studies have found that biometrics being scanned in the wrong type of light or in shadow could lead to a false identification. One problem, a Home Office minister admitted, is that people with brown eyes could experience difficulties using the national ID cards. The cost of a combined passport and ID card, is estimated at £93 each. The UK House of Commons last week passed the national ID bill; it now moves to the House of Lords. (Oct. 24)
  • Report: Costly National ID Scheme An Unfunded Mandate. The National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group, today released a report documenting pending legislation that pre-empts state authority, including the national ID card created by the recently passed REAL ID Act. NCSL officials estimate the national ID scheme could cost states $13 billion as they try to restructure motor vehicle offices. "The REAL ID Act handcuffs state officials with unworkable, unproven, costly mandates that compel states to enforce federal immigration policy rather than advance the paramount objective of making state-issued identity documents more secure and verifiable, " Sen. Michael Balboni said, in announcing the report. The new ID cards will include biometrics, including digital photographs that can be linked up to facial recognition systems. (Aug. 16)
  • UK Identity Card Bill Introduced in Parliament. The Labour Party introduced its Identity Cards bill in the House of Commons on Monday. The bill, which may cost £18B ($32.6B) over the next 10 years, provides for ID cards that will be tied to the National Identity Register, also established by the bill. As the bill's Explanatory Note states, in the first stage only individuals who apply for "Designated Documents" will be required to register, though the bill provides authority for the government to make registration compulsory for all UK residents. The National Identity Register may eventually include name, date of birth, residence, and immigration status, as well as biometric information and personal history of every individual in the UK. The bill was initially introduced in the House of Parliament last November, but was withdrawn in April pending the outcome of the May 6 general election. (June 2)
  • Congress Passes Controversial ID Bill Without Debate. The Senate yesterday approved the supplemental military spending bill to which the REAL ID Act had been attached. The legislation mandates federal identification standards and requires states DMVs, which have become the targets of identity thieves, to collect sensitive personal information. The new ID cards will include digital photographs that can be linked up to facial recognition systems. Legislators in both parties urged debate and more than 600 organizations opposed the legislation. (May 11)
  • Spotlight: Federal Grants Fund Surveillance Cameras in Nation's Cities. This month, Spotlight on Surveillance turns to the $2 billion that the Department of Homeland Security will provide to state and local governments. Some of this money will be for surveillance cameras that watch people in shopping centers and on public streets, and may even look into homes. Such cameras can be linked to facial recognition systems. Studies have found that such surveillance systems have little impact on crime, and that it is more effective to place officers on the streets and improve lighting in high-crime areas. (May 2)
  • Sweeping ID Bill Faces Opposition in the Senate. A bipartisan coalition of senators is urging debate on a bill that would establish a federal mandate for identification standards across the United States. The REAL ID Act would impose technological standards and verification procedures on the states, many of which are beyond the current capacity of the federal government. The bill is opposed by the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Sen. Richard Durbin also expressed concern this week that REAL ID would repeal earlier legislation that contained "carefully crafted language -- bipartisan language -- to establish standards for States issuing driver's licenses." (Apr. 22)
  • Facial Recognition Linked to Mobile Phones. New software allows personal digital assistants, mobile phones or other handheld devices to use a built-in camera to recognize the face of their owner. The Okao Vision Face Recognition Sensor software by Omron is compatible with the Symbian, Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless, Linux and Itron operating systems. (Mar. 1, 2005)
  • Homeland Security Adopts New Facial Recognition Standard. The Department of Homeland Security has adopted a standard developed by the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS). The standard (INCITS 385) will be used to as the technical criteria for designing equipment such as cameras and software for facial recognition. (Oct. 28, 2004)
  • CATO Institute Holds Biometrics Event. The Cato Institute will be holding an event called "Eye in the Sky and Everywhere Else: Do Biometric Technologies Violate Our Rights?" Speakers included Frances Zelazny, Visionics; Dorothy Denning, Georgetown University; Marc Rotenberg, EPIC; and John D. Woodward, Jr., RAND. (Jan. 24, 2002)
  • Watch the Watchers. An international coalition composed of artists, scientists, engineers, scholars, and others declared December 24 to be "World Subjectrights Day", or "World Sousveillance Day", a day to watch the watchers. Passengers are encouraged to photograph cab drivers, customers to photograph shopkeepers, citizens to photograph the police, etc. There is also a photo competition encouraging participants to send in pictures for inclusion in a national face recognition database. (Dec. 2001)
  • EPIC Event to Explore Privacy Implications of New ID Systems. EPIC holds National Press Club event where experts Whitfield Diffie, Jeffrey Rosen, Richard Smith, Robert Ellis Smith, John Woodward, and Marc Rotenberg discuss privacy issues relating to security and surveillance technologies. (Oct. 22, 2001)

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