Watchdog Group Sues ICE For Records of Facial Recognition Use and Data Collection Methods

Watchdog Group Sues ICE For Records of Facial Recognition Use and Data Collection Methods

The Project on Government Oversight wants more information about how the agency has solicited facial recognition software from Amazon and other companies.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is facing a lawsuit for failing to release records pertaining to its surveillance and data collection capabilities, which are rapidly expanding into fields like facial recognition.

In the past year, the Project on Government Oversight that it has requested documents from ICE eight times about its detention methods, civil rights violations and surveillance technology, The Washington Post reported. Those requests were filed under the Freedom of Information Act, which requires a government agency to make a decision and notify the person who requested the information within 20 days.

The government watchdog group, which uses the acronym POGO, said that in all eight cases, ICE either gave incomplete responses or failed to respond to their requests.

“The information to be disclosed is likely to contribute to an increased public understanding of government activities, as it relates to powerful and troubling technological capabilities that federal law enforcement may be considering harnessing,” the group wrote in its complaint, filed Thursday, according to the Post.

In further explaining the group’s reasoning for requesting the documents, POGO wrote: “This technology would be externally directed toward the public and the public has a great interest in whether the government is taking steps to utilize this technology.”

Last year, POGO obtained and published documents showing that Amazon Web Services had pitched the company’s facial recognition software, Rekognition, to ICE in June 2018. Since then, the group has made several followup requests with ICE to obtain more materials surrounding Amazon’s pitch, analysis of the software and communications between officials about facial recognition.

ICE, which has not commented publicly about the lawsuit, sent back three redacted pages to POGO based on an initial request and said that no further documents about facial recognition could be found. The watchdog group said that it is “seemingly unlikely” that ICE, which has reportedly used facial recognition for arrests of undocumented people in the U.S., does not have further records on the subject in their system.

“This is a technology that has a lot of policy urgency because of how rapidly the adoption of the technology is taking place and how rapidly it’s changing,” Jake Laperruque, the senior counsel for POGO who submitted FOIA requests to the agency, told the Post. “It’s not the kind of thing where we can afford to wait two years to see how it’s being used.”

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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