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ACLU Sues Our Coup Agencies for Mass Surveilling Americans

You can’t help but wonder why the US Congress is so incredibly helpless against the bureaucratic monster agencies it created. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the FBI and the Department of Justice for mass surveilling Americans – in an effort that Congress knew little about until a couple of months ago.

The mass surveillance of Americans using new technologies leased from Amazon and other companies was never voted upon or authorized by Congress. And yet that’s what the same agencies that attempted to overturn the 2016 election have been doing to all of us.

Eight Members of Congress, including the leaders of the House and Senate homeland security committees, sent a letter in October to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, demanding more information. The letter was ignored. The program effectively has no oversight whatsoever – and bipartisan anger over it is growing.

Democrats are infuriated because they believe the FBI is undeservedly surveilling “people of color” and throwing innocents in jail through cases of mistaken identity. Conservatives are wondering if federal agencies are compiling lists of gun owners, Trump supporters or other people who the Deep State finds inconvenient.

While the FBI is refusing to answer questions now, it did admit in passing to Congress last year that it has been using a piece of Amazon technology called ‘Rekognition.’

Congress learned in June that the FBI has a database of 640 million facial photographs used by an internal unit called Facial Analysis, Comparison and Evaluation (FACE). We have a population of around 330 million people in the US.

So, does that mean the FBI’s FACE program has millions of photos of foreign nationals who have entered the US through our airports as tourists – or does it have multiple photos of every American adult for comparison? Congress has no idea.

One thing that we do know thanks to third-party tests is that facial recognition software is not the dazzling, shiny, science-fiction cure-all that Hollywood has made it out to be. Testing of Amazon’s Rekognition program has shown it to be wildly inaccurate.

The ACLU in California created a database of 25,000 publicly available mug shots and then used Rekognition to compare every member of the House and Senate against the database. Rekognition falsely matched 28 Representatives and Senators to known felons.

Insert your own joke here if you wish, but the test does seem to prove that the technology is flawed and puts innocent people at risk. (Rekognition is already in use in Oregon police departments and in Orlando, FL.)

The ACLU in Massachusetts ran a similar test last month. They scanned all of the professional athletes on the New England Patriots, the Boston Celtics, the Boston Bruins and the Boston Red Sox against a database of mugshots. Rekognition returned 27 false matches.

A sheriff’s department in Oregon has admitted that every Rekognition search returns five potential matches, even when the software does not have a high level of confidence that it has found the correct suspect. Those are not very good odds if your photograph happens to be in the system, and you happen to look similar to a suspect in a bank robbery.

Whether you support the use of facial recognition software by law enforcement agencies or not, it should concern everyone that the FBI and the DOJ are using the technology with no oversight. Congress had no idea this was going on until a few months ago, and the agencies they are supposed to have oversight powers over are refusing to answer questions about it.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) says, “Congress needs to know more about how this technology is being deployed.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was more direct. An aide for his office says Sen. Paul believes “unelected bureaucrats shouldn’t be enabled to run a surveillance state, especially without any oversight from Congress.” Some of us don’t trust them to do it even with oversight, but we’re old-fashioned like that.

It’s rare to think this, but hopefully the ACLU’s lawsuit will succeed, and we’ll soon know more about how the DOJ and FBI are actually using this software. And if Congress cannot control the agencies using the technology, they need to ban it outright.


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