“It would be foolish to claim that the degree of privacy guaranteed to citizens by the Fourth Amendment has not been entirely affected by advances in technology. The question we face today is what are the limits of this power of technology to reduce the realm of guaranteed privacy. “- Former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
We have been following developments as the Interim Economic Affairs Committee continues to study the use of facial recognition in Montana. This week, we submitted a formal comment to the committee, identifying the concerns we have about the current system regulating the use of facial recognition.
Facial recognition has been touted as a technology that can make government more efficient by helping prevent fraud for things like unemployment. There is no doubt that the technology has a lot of potential, but there is still enormous potential for abuse.
Under the direction of the Montana Investigations Bureau, the Montana Analysis and Technical Information Center (MATIC), the state’s data fusion center does not have its own facial recognition databases, although it is licensed to use external facial recognition databases. However, internal policy dictates that searches should only be conducted for specific cases that meet the requirements of “reasonable suspicion” of a crime.
While MATIC’s internal policies regarding the use of facial recognition are a welcome development, some law enforcement agencies may not have the same restrictions. Clearview AI, the facial recognition company that scanned social media sites like Facebook to create their database, offers its services to law enforcement agencies wishing to use facial recognition. Local Montana law enforcement may not have the same rules regarding when it is acceptable to perform a facial recognition search. Without uniform rules on the use of facial recognition, agencies can abuse the use of facial recognition technology.
Another major concern is the lack of standards for how Montana agencies use and share data with third-party facial recognition systems. The Montana Department of Motor Vehicles allows “no external access to their FRT system,” although the Montana driver’s license database is shared with national databases. This creates the possibility that Montana driver’s license photos could be used in facial recognition databases out of state.
While agencies like the Montana DMV have their own facial recognition databases, groups like the Montana Unemployment Insurance program do not have their own database, forcing them to rely on third-party vendors. Providers like ID.ME have policies that could allow law enforcement to “access UI database searches through provider requests” despite Montana UI policies prohibiting such actions. .
Without consistent and transparent rules about when FRT can be used, with whom data can be shared, and when agencies can use third-party systems, technology will continue to pose a threat to the security and privacy of Montanais. While facial recognition can provide a powerful tool, appropriate restrictions need to be implemented to protect Montanais.
Tanner Avery is director of communications and outreach at the Frontier Institute in Montana. The Frontier Institute believes in solving problems with more freedom, not government.