95% of FBI agents aren't trained on facial recognition tech but still use it anyway

Surprise, surprise: the FBI has unprecedented access to wild technology that allows for horrifying overreaches of privacy; and the vast, vast majority of them haven't actually gone through the formal training program but still use (read: abuse) the system anyway!

That's according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which reveals:

Seven law enforcement agencies in the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ) reported using facial recognition services provided by commercial and nonprofit entities. The agencies reported using four services in total from October 2019 through March 2022 to support criminal investigations. All seven agencies initially used these services without requiring staff take facial recognition training. GAO found that six agencies had available data and cumulatively conducted about 60,000 searches when they did not have training requirements in place. As of April 2023, two agencies began to require training.


Across the FBI, only 10 staff completed facial recognition training of 196 staff that accessed the service. FBI said they intend to implement a training requirement for all staff, but have not yet done so. Such a requirement would help FBI ensure its staff understand how to use these services. Also, clarifying the status of FBI's training requirement would allow stakeholders to fully evaluate use of the service against FBI ethical and privacy standards.


GAO also found that three of the seven agencies had policies or guidance specific to facial recognition technology that address civil rights and civil liberties. The other four agencies—three in DOJ and one in DHS—did not have such policies or guidance.

Not great!

More summarized data, courtesy of Wired:

The FBI ranks first among federal law enforcement agencies examined by the GAO for the scale of its use of face recognition. More than 60,000 searches were carried out by seven agencies between October 2019 and March 2022. Over half were made by FBI agents, about 15,000 using Clearview AI and 20,000 using Thorn.

No existing law requires federal law enforcement personnel to take training before using face recognition or to follow particular standards when using face recognition in a criminal investigation.

To be clear: none of this is actually surprising. But it sure sounds pretty bad! If only there were some way for the American public to have even the slightest possible oversight or accountability over federal law enforcement agencies. Imagine that!

Facial Recognition Services: Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Should Take Actions to Implement Training, and Policies for Civil Liberties [US Government Accountability Office]

FBI Agents Are Using Face Recognition Without Proper Training [Khari Johnson / Wired]