Safety and Security

White House Trials Facial Recognition

The Department of Homeland Security has published a report detailing how the U.S. Secret Service plans to test the use of facial recognition in and around the White House.

A published document explains that the Secret Service will test whether its system can identify certain volunteer staff members through the scanning of video feeds from existing cameras “from two separate locations on the White House Complex, and will include images of individuals passing by on public streets and parks adjacent to the White House Complex.” The end goal is to use biometrics to allow the agency to track “subjects of interest” in public spaces who are approaching the White House “prior to direct engagement with law enforcement.”

But as the ACLU points out, there is no clear guidance as to how the Secret Service will decide if a person is a “subject of interest.” The agency noted that individuals could be flagged through means including “social media posts made in public forums” as well as suspicious activity reports and media reporting.

“Unfortunately, our government agencies have a long history of labeling people threats based on their race, religion, or political beliefs,” wrote Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology ProjectJust, in a blog post. “Last year, for example, a leaked document revealed that the FBI had prepared an intelligence assessment wrongly profiling Black activists as threats based on their race and beliefs, labeling them ‘Black Identity Extremists.’”

Stanley added that the technology also poses a concern for protesters, with the Trump administration already trying to limit protests near the White House. There is also the question as to how wide a radius the Secret Service would like to monitor.

“Is there any reason to think it wouldn’t want to follow its ‘subjects of interest’ 24/7 and nationwide if technology makes that easy enough?” wrote Stanley.

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