Six Federal Agencies Used Facial Recognition On George Floyd Protestors

The FBI, U.S. Park Police, and other agencies used the technology during the height of 2020's protests, according to a new government watchdog report.
June 30, 2021, 1:00pm
Protesters march across the Brooklyn Bridge on the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.
Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Six federal agencies including the FBI have reported using facial recognition technology on images from the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that followed the police murder of George Floyd, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report shows that many of the agencies reported using the controversial technology for criminal investigations, and to remotely verify an individual’s identity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All six agencies reported using facial recognition technology during the months of May through August 2020, or the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

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The FBI created a digital tip line to solicit images of people allegedly involved in criminal activity during the protests. The U.S. Park Police used an image from Twitter to identify someone who allegedly assaulted a police officer during a protest. That person was later charged with Felony Civil Disorder and two counts of Assault on a Police Officer, the report states.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service—which is the oldest law enforcement agency operating in the U.S.—used Clearview A.I. to identify people suspected of damaging Postal Service property, opening and stealing mail, and committing arson during the protests. 

Other agencies that used facial recognition include the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Capitol Police. 

These findings confirm the fears of many activists and protesters. During the height of the protests last year, activists began asking that images including protesters’ faces not be shared in fear of retaliation. 

The study also tracked whether federal agencies were using third-party technology companies to conduct facial recognition searches. Of the 14 agencies that reported using these non-federal entities, only one was aware of which system was being used by its employees. 

The study recommended that the use of non-federal facial recognition technology be tracked to ensure accuracy and privacy. 

Grassroots efforts across the country have worked to ban the use of facial recognition technology due to its well-established bias against women and people of color. Congress also recently reintroduced a bill that would ban facial recognition tech indefinitely.