San Francisco – A majority of Americans are in face recognition databases in use by the U.S. government. Are you one of them? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has launched a new quiz called “Who Has Your Face” to help you find out.
“Your driver’s license picture and other ID photos are often shared with law enforcement and other agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” said EFF Digital Strategist Jason Kelley. “Those agencies use facial recognition technology to compare your face with those in mugshots and with other photos of people suspected of committing crimes—putting you at risk of being misidentified. So we created this quiz to help show people what we know about who has their face.”
To create the Who Has Your Face quiz, EFF and the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law reviewed thousands of pages of public records to determine as much as possible which government photos of U.S. citizens, residents, and travelers are shared with which agencies for facial recognition purposes.
We learned that government agencies—including ICE, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI—could all have some access to these photos. However, despite hundreds of hours of research it’s nearly impossible to know precisely which agencies are sharing which photos, and with whom. For example, each state DMV shares access to their photos differently, depending on agreements with local police, other states, and federal agencies. Our Who Has Your Face quiz asks you questions like what kind of ID you have and which state you live in to help you narrow down which agencies might have copies of your photos.
“These public records have shown us that biometric database sharing is widespread and completely unregulated—and this is still just a partial picture,” said Clare Garvie, senior associate with the Center on Privacy & Technology. “Americans deserve to know how their biometric information is being used, especially when it may put them at risk of being misidentified as a criminal suspect.”
“Here’s the truth: it should be easy to learn the full list of which entities have personal data that you’ve been required to hand over in exchange for a driver’s license or for re-entry into the country after visiting family abroad—especially when that’s a photo of your face,” said EFF Surveillance Litigation Director Jennifer Lynch. “Most people realize that their photos are scanned into a database, but they don’t realize this effectively makes them part of a perpetual police line-up. That’s what’s happening to millions of people, without their knowledge, and it’s practically impossible to opt out.”
Despite the proliferation of federal, state, and local face databases, we can fight back. Laws that ban government use of face recognition are increasingly passing around the country. Several states already don’t allow or don’t have face recognition at DMVs. Cities like San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, California, as well as Somerville, Massachusetts have also passed bans on its use. To help ban government use of face recognition in your city, visit our About Face campaign.
For EFF’s Who Has Your Face Quiz: