The US Secret Service has revealed plans for a facial recognition surveillance test at the White House, with the aim of identifying “subjects of interest” who could pose a threat to the President. The document was released in late November, but the American Civil Liberties Union published its existence today. It describes a test that would compare closed-circuit video footage of White House public spaces with a database of images, in this case, with employees who volunteered to be tracked.
The test was scheduled to start on November 19 and end on August 30, 2019. While it is running, the movie footage with a facial match will be saved, then confirmed by human testers, and eventually removed. The document acknowledges that running facial recognition technology on unconscious visitors could be invasive, but notes that the White House compound is already a “highly monitored area” and that people can choose to avoid visits. However, we do not know if the test is actually working. “For safety purposes, we do not comment on the means and methods of how we conduct our security operations,” a spokesman said. The edge.
You are currently looking for employees, but could eventually be used for “topics of interest”
Secret Service agents already receive photos to identify subjects of interest, which could be chosen based on social media posts, media reports, or “concerned citizen reports.” If facial recognition is extended more widely, it will serve as an automated version of that surveillance process.
The ACLU says that the current test appears appropriately narrow, but that it “crosses an important line by opening the door to massive and suspicious scrutiny of Americans on public sidewalks,” such as the path outside the White House. (The program’s technology is supposed to analyze faces up to 20 meters away from the camera.) “Facial recognition is one of the most dangerous biometric elements from a privacy point of view, as it can be easily expanded and abused, even if it is implemented on a large scale. Without people’s knowledge or permission.”
The Department of Homeland Security (where the Secret Service operates) already uses facial recognition to scan passengers on domestic and international flights, and may expand the program to more airports in the US in the coming years. Meanwhile, some police departments have used an Amazon-built facial recognition tool, called Rekognition, to scan camera images in real time against snapshots.
Facial recognition is a powerful tool that can be error prone
These systems can make significant mistakes: A test falsely combined 28 members of Congress with mugshots last year. That’s not necessarily a problem, if the results are corrected by humans later. But if these tools become ubiquitous, it could lead to some people being mistaken (albeit only temporarily) for the wanted criminals.
Lawmakers sent several letters to Amazon requesting information on Rekognition: the most recent, sent last week, cited “serious concerns that this type of product has significant accuracy issues, places disproportionate burdens on communities of color, and could crack down on the will Americans To Exercise Their First Amendment Rights In Public. “
As the ACLU writes, the Secret Service isn’t just tasked with protecting the White House. So if you incorporate facial recognition into your regular defense arsenal, you could end up deploying anywhere a president or vice president travels, making it a big topic even for people who will never visit the White House.
Update 5:20 PM ET: Added Secret Service statement.