What GAO Found
Market research and other data suggest that the market for facial recognition technology has increased in the number and types of businesses that use it since GAO’s 2015 report on the topic (GAO-15-621 ). For example, newer functions of the technology identified by stakeholders and literature included authorizing payments and tracking and monitoring attendance of students, employees, or those attending events.
Functions of Facial Recognition Technology
Accuracy. Although the accuracy of facial recognition technology has increased dramatically in recent years, differences in performance exist for certain demographic groups. National Institute of Standards and Technology tests found that facial recognition technology generally performs better on lighter-skin men and worse on darker-skin women, and does not perform as well on children and elderly adults. These differences could result in more frequent misidentification for certain demographics, such as misidentifying a shopper as a shoplifter when comparing the individual’s image against a data set of known shoplifters. There is no consensus on what causes performance differences, including physical factors (such as lighting) or factors related to the creation or operation of the technology. However, stakeholders and literature identified various methods that could help mitigate differences in performance among demographic groups.
Privacy. Stakeholders and literature identified concerns related to privacy, such as the inability of individuals to remain anonymous in public or the use of the technology without individuals’ consent. Facial recognition technology may collect or store facial images, posing varying levels of risk. Some federal and state laws and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation impose requirements on U.S. companies related to facial recognition technology. However, as we reported in 2015, there is no comprehensive federal privacy law governing the collection, use, and sale of personal information by private-sector companies. Some stakeholders, including privacy and industry groups, have developed voluntary frameworks that seek to address privacy concerns. Most of these frameworks were consistent with internationally recognized principles for protecting the privacy and security of personal information. However, U.S. companies are not required to follow these voluntary frameworks.
Why GAO Did This Study
Facial recognition technology can verify or identify an individual from a facial image. Advocacy groups and others have raised privacy concerns related to private companies’ use of the technology, as well as concerns that higher error rates among some demographic groups could lead to disparate treatment.
GAO was asked to review the commercial use of facial recognition technology and related accuracy and privacy issues. Among other issues, this report examines how companies use the technology, its accuracy and how accuracy differs across demographic groups, and how privacy issues are addressed in laws and industry practices.
GAO analyzed laws; reviewed literature and company documentation; interviewed federal agency officials; and interviewed representatives from companies, industry groups, and privacy groups. GAO also reviewed selected privacy frameworks, chosen based on expert recommendations and research.
What GAO Recommends
GAO reiterates its previous suggestion from a 2013 report ( GAO-13-663 ) that Congress consider strengthening the consumer privacy framework to reflect changes in technology and the marketplace.
For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-8678 or email@example.com.
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Figure 1. A simplified depiction of disease transmission. Through contact tracing, an infected individual’s contacts are notified and may be asked to quarantine. (In reality, some contacts may not become infected, and some of those infected may not show symptoms.) How does it work? In traditional contact tracing, public health officials begin by identifying an infected individual. They then interview the individual to identify recent contacts, ask the individual and their contacts to take containment measures, if appropriate (e.g., a 14-day quarantine for COVID-19), and coordinate any needed care and testing. Proximity tracing apps may accelerate the process by replacing the time-consuming interviews needed to identify contacts. Apps may also identify more contacts than interviews, which rely on interviewees' recall and on their being acquainted with their contacts. Public health authorities provide the apps, often using systems developed by companies or research groups. Users voluntarily download the app for their country or region and opt in to contact tracing. In the U.S., state or local public health authorities would likely implement proximity tracing apps. Proximity tracing apps detect contacts using Bluetooth, GPS, or a combination of both. Bluetooth-based apps rely on anonymous codes shared between smartphones during close encounters. These codes contain no information about location or user identity, helping safeguard privacy. The apps allow public health authorities to set a minimum time and distance threshold for someone to count as a contact. Contact tracing can be centralized or decentralized. With a centralized approach, contacts identified by the app are often saved to a government server, and an official notifies contacts of possible exposure. For a decentralized approach, contact data are typically stored on the user's device at first. When a user voluntarily reports infection, the user's codes are uploaded to a database that other app users' phones search. Users who have encountered the infected person then receive notifications through the app (see fig. 2). Figure 2. Bluetooth-based proximity tracing apps exchange information, notify contacts exposed to an infected person, and provide follow-up information. How mature is it? Traditional contact tracing is well established and has been an effective infectious disease response strategy for decades. Proximity tracing apps are relatively new and not as well established. Their contact identifications could become more accurate as developers improve app technology, for example by improving Bluetooth signal interpretation or using information from other phone sensors. Opportunities Reach more people. For accurate COVID-19 contact tracing using traditional methods, public health experts have estimated that the U.S. would require hundreds of thousands of trained contact tracers because of the large number of infections. Proximity tracing apps can expedite and automate identification and notification of the contacts, reducing this need. Faster response. Proximity tracing apps could slow the spread of disease more effectively because they can identify and notify contacts as soon as a user reports they are infected. More complete identification of contacts. Proximity tracing apps, unlike traditional contact tracing, do not require users to recall or be acquainted with people they have recently encountered. Challenges Technology. Technological limitations may lead to missed contacts or false identification of contacts. For example, GPS-based apps may not identify precise locations, and Bluetooth apps may ignore barriers preventing exposure, such as walls or protective equipment. In addition, apps may overlook exposure if two people were not in close enough proximity long enough for it to count as a contact. Adoption. Lower adoption rates make the apps less effective. In the U.S., some states may choose not to use proximity tracing apps. In addition, the public may hesitate to opt in because of concerns about privacy and uncertainty as to how the data may be used. Recent scams using fake contact tracing to steal information may also erode trust in the apps. Interoperability. Divergent app designs may lead to the inability to exchange data between apps, states, and countries, which could be a problem as travel restrictions are relaxed. Access. Proximity tracing apps require regular access to smartphones and knowledge about how to install and use apps. Some vulnerable populations, including seniors, are less likely to own smartphones and use apps, possibly affecting adoption. Policy Context and Questions Although proximity tracing apps are relatively new, they have the potential to help slow disease transmission. But policymakers will need to consider how great the benefits are likely to be, given the challenges. If policymakers decide to use proximity tracing apps, they will need to integrate them into the larger public health response and consider the following questions, among others: What steps can policymakers take to build public trust and encourage communities to support and use proximity tracing apps, and mitigate lack of adoption by some populations? What legal, procedural, privacy, security, and technical safeguards could protect data collected through proximity tracing apps? What can policymakers do to improve coordination of contact tracing efforts across local, state, and international jurisdictions? What can policymakers do to expedite testing and communication of test results to maximize the benefits of proximity tracing apps? What can policymakers do to ensure that contact identification is accurate and that its criteria are based on scientific evidence? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Republic of the Marshall Islands Constitution DayBy Sam NewsApril 30, 2021
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- Border Security: CBP Has Taken Actions to Help Ensure Timely and Accurate Field Testing of Suspected Illicit DrugsBy Sam NewsApril 26, 2021What GAO Found U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has policies and procedures for its officers and agents to test substances that they suspect are illicit drugs—referred to as a presumptive field test. Field officials that GAO spoke with said these policies and procedures provide sufficient guidance for conducting presumptive field testing. The policies and procedures address various topics, such as approved and recommended types of test equipment, use of the equipment, training, and requirements for documenting illicit drug seizures. They also address laboratory confirmation of field test results (confirmatory testing), which U.S. Attorney's Offices require for federal prosecution. GAO found that CBP's Office of Field Operations and U.S. Border Patrol conducted at least 90,000 presumptive field tests associated with an arrest from fiscal year 2015 through 2020. The average time for CBP to complete confirmatory testing across its labs decreased from 100 days in calendar year 2015 to 53 days in calendar year 2020, as of September 2020. This occurred while the total number of requests for confirmatory testing increased from about 4,600 in calendar year 2015 to about 5,600 in calendar year 2020, as of September 2020. With regard to accuracy, CBP officials have taken initial steps to upgrade the software system used to document confirmatory test results. This should provide CBP with information on the extent to which presumptive field test results align with confirmatory test results. Average Time to Complete Confirmatory Testing and Number of Requests for Confirmatory Testing Processed Across all U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Laboratories, Calendar Year 2015 through September 24, 2020 CBP has taken a number of actions to help ensure timely and accurate field drug testing, including: Identifying, testing, and deploying test equipment. For example, CBP tested multiple types of chemical screening devices to determine their performance and capabilities to detect fentanyl at low purity levels. Enhancing presumptive and confirmatory field testing capabilities by building permanent onsite labs and deploying mobile labs in certain field locations. Providing round-the-clock access to chemists who help interpret presumptive field test results. Why GAO Did This Study Within the Department of Homeland Security, CBP reported seizing approximately 830,000 pounds of drugs in fiscal year 2020. When CBP officers and agents encounter suspected illicit drugs, they conduct a presumptive field test. A positive test result is one factor CBP uses to establish probable cause for an arrest or seizure. GAO was asked to review issues related to CBP's field drug testing. This report examines (1) CBP's policies and procedures for testing suspected illicit drugs in the field; (2) available data on CBP's field drug testing; and (3) CBP's efforts to help ensure timely and accurate test results. GAO analyzed CBP data on presumptive field testing and laboratory confirmation of results from fiscal year 2015 through 2020; reviewed related policies and procedures; and interviewed CBP officials in five states at land, air, and sea ports of entry, Border Patrol stations and checkpoints, and CBP labs. GAO selected these locations to include varying levels of drug seizures, among other factors. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Defense Real Property: DOD-Wide Strategy Needed to Address Control Issues and Improve Reliability of RecordsBy Sam NewsSeptember 9, 2020As required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, the Department of Defense (DOD) for fiscal year 2019 underwent a financial statement audit. In the military services' full financial statement audit reports for fiscal year 2019, the independent public accountants reported serious control issues related to events that occur during the life cycle of real property, consisting of adding, disposing, reconciling, valuing, and performing physical inventory counts. These control issues affect not only the reliability of financial statement reporting but also the quality of property record data that DOD officials need to make decisions for budget and mission planning, space management, and buying versus leasing options. Further, with DOD having almost half of the government's buildings, better data could help the federal government identify opportunities to dispose of unneeded buildings and reduce lease costs, thus potentially saving it millions of dollars. DOD has not yet developed a comprehensive, department-wide strategy—an element of leading practices for enterprise-wide real property management—to address the reported real property issues. Instead, each of the military services is independently developing corrective actions to address control issues, without applying common solutions among the services or department-wide. A department-wide strategy for remediating control issues would better position DOD to develop sustainable, routine processes that help ensure accurate real property records and, ultimately, auditable information for financial reporting for the department. Additionally, a DOD-wide strategy could help the military services more effectively and efficiently address reported control issues, particularly for those categorized as DOD-wide issues. The Acting Secretary, noting that the services had not accurately accounted for DOD's buildings and structures, required existence and completeness (E&C) verifications to be performed for all real property for fiscal year 2019. Given the lack of department-wide instructions for how to carry out the requirement, the military services independently developed approaches for performing the E&C verifications. Their approaches differed in both scope (what assets were verified) and methodology (how the assets were verified), including the extent to which instructions were written. Reporting and monitoring of the results by service and department-level management also differed. Without department-wide instructions for performing the fiscal year 2019 E&C verifications, the results were not comparable among the military services. Further, DOD and the military services did not obtain the complete and consistent information needed to create a DOD real property baseline or to help ensure that the department's real property records are reliable. DOD-wide instructions would help DOD obtain complete and comparable E&C verifications results, which would help DOD achieve an auditable real property baseline and, ultimately, its objective of an unmodified (“clean”) audit opinion. DOD manages one of the federal government's largest portfolios of real property. This engagement was initiated in connection with the statutory requirement for GAO to audit the U.S. government's consolidated financial statements. DOD's uncorrected deficiencies, including those affecting real property, prevent DOD from having auditable financial statements, one of the three major impediments preventing GAO from expressing an opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government. This report (1) identifies the real property control issues that independent public accountants reported that may affect the ability of the military services to establish and maintain accurate and complete real property records, (2) examines the extent to which DOD had a strategy to address the control issues, and (3) assesses the extent to which DOD provided guidance for the required E&C verifications during fiscal year 2019 and how each military service implemented the directive. GAO analyzed fiscal year 2019 audit findings, reviewed key DOD documents, and interviewed DOD and military service officials. GAO is recommending that DOD (1) develop and implement an enterprise-wide strategy to remediate real property control issues and (2) issue DOD-wide instructions for the E&C verifications. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Kristen Kociolek at (202) 512-2989 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- North Carolina Nail Salon Owner Convicted of Forced LaborBy Sam NewsJanuary 8, 2021The Justice Department announced today that after a five-day trial, a federal jury in Charlotte, North Carolina, found Thuy Tien Luong, 37, of Charlotte, North Carolina, guilty of forced labor after finding that Luong compelled the labor of one of her nail technicians at a nail salon she owned and operated in Davidson, North Carolina.[Read More…]
- New Jury Instructions Strengthen Social Media CautionsBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsOctober 1, 2020A federal Judiciary committee has issued a new set of model jury instructions that federal judges may use to deter jurors from using social media to research or communicate about cases.[Read More…]
- Statement by Pamela Karlan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights DivisionBy Sam NewsFebruary 26, 2021“The United States is currently facing unprecedented challenges, some of which are fueling increased bigotry and hatred. Hate crimes cannot be tolerated in our country, and the Department of Justice will continue to put all necessary resources toward protecting our neighbors and our communities from these heinous acts.[Read More…]