Facial Recognition Technology at Fresno Airport

January 22, 2002

January 22, 2002 ACLU Request for Documents on Use of
Facial Recognition Technology at Fresno Yosemite Airport


January 22, 2002

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Charles R. Hayes
Director of Transportation
Airport Administration
City of Fresno
4995 East Clinton Way
Fresno, CA  93727

Dear Mr. Hayes:

We are writing in regards to the facial recognition technology that has been deployed at Fresno Yosemite International Airport.  We would like to again urge Fresno Yosemite Airport to reconsider its decision to install and employ facial recognition technology.  As we explained in our letter of November 20, 2001, and as the Executive Director of T.F. Green Airport recently acknowledged (after researching the technology), the effectiveness and accuracy of facial recognition technology is open to serious question.

In addition, in order to help determine the effect that this technology will have on individual privacy, pursuant to the California Public Records Act, Government Code Section 6250 et seq., we request all documents in the possession of Fresno city and/or airport officials (as well as those working for or in concert with such officials) regarding the use of facial recognition technology at Fresno Yosemite Airport.

Examples of documents covered by our request under the Public Records Act include memoranda, correspondence, analyses, evaluations, policies, reports, notes of meetings, and other written records or records by any other means, including but not limited to records kept on computers or electronic communications.

Our request includes, but is not limited to, all documents regarding the following:

§ the decision making process of Fresno city and/or airport officials to employ facial recognition technology, including, but not restricted to all documents between Fresno airport city officials and the private companies providing the technology, memoranda, notes of meetings, reports, evaluations of the reliability and accuracy of the technology, documents pertaining to Fresno Yosemite Airport's review and approval of the use of facial recognition technology, documents reflecting that the decision to utilize the technology was authorized by Fresno city and/or airport officials or any other governmental entity, and correspondence, contracts and communications between Fresno city and/or airport officials and third parties (including, but not restricted to vendors) regarding the use of the technology; 

§ the locations of all cameras that have been deployed as part of the facial recognition technology at Fresno Yosemite Airport; 

§ the technical capabilities of the facial recognition technology deployed at Fresno Yosemite Airport, including, but not limited to documents regarding the total capacity of the facial recognition system, the total number of images that can be contained within the photo database, the accuracy rates of the system while in operation, and the infrared capabilities of the system;

§ instruction or training of any and all Fresno city and/or airport personnel involved in the operation, planning, implementation and procurement of facial recognition technology;

§ the contents of the image databases used by the facial recognition technology, including, but not restricted to the images of people who have been scanned by the biometrics cameras at Fresno Yosemite since the cameras went into operation and images of people who were in the biometrics databases before the cameras went into operation, as well as documents as to how these images were selected, how these images were obtained, use or possible use of drivers' license photos or any other motor vehicle records as part of the technology and criteria for inclusion of new images in the photo databases;

§ procedures for what is done during and after the facial recognition identification process, including, but not restricted to documents regarding who makes the identification, logs of all results by the biometrics software program, logs of all comments made by human operators of the system, documentation of procedures used by the Fresno Police Department or other Fresno city and/or airport officials in arresting, stopping, or detaining subjects after they are identified by these camera systems, and documents regarding past arrests, stops, or detention made after identification by these cameras; 

§ future plans for use of facial recognition technology in Fresno, Fresno Yosemite Airport, or elsewhere; and

§ discussions, meetings, or correspondence with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding FAA participation, approval, or oversight of facial recognition technology at Fresno Yosemite Airport.

Pursuant to Government Code Section 6256, please make available the documents described in this letter within 10 days after receipt of this letter.  To the extent that the airport claims the right to withhold any record or the portion of any record, please describe with specificity each and every record that is being withheld and the claimed reason for exemption, citing the language of the Public Records Act on which you rely for each withheld record, as required by Section 6255.  Should any document contain information exempt from disclosure, please provide the segregable portion of the records.

Because the ACLU is a nonprofit civil rights organization, we request that you waive any fees that would be normally applicable to a Public Records Act request.  If you are unable to do so, please inform me of any payment required prior to copying.  No part of the information obtained will be sold or distributed for profit.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  If you have questions, please contact me at 415/621-2493, ext. 321.

Sincerely,

 


Jayashri Srikantiah
Staff Counsel
ACLU of Northern California


 


 

November 20, 2001 ACLU Letter Seeking Information on Use of
Facial Recognition Technology at Fresno Yosemite Airport

November 20, 2001  

Charles R. Hayes
Director of Transportation
Airport Administration
City of Fresno
4995 East Clinton Way
Fresno, CA 93727  

Dear Mr. Hayes:  

According to recent news reports and our conversations with Public Relations and Communications Director Patti Miller, Fresno Yosemite International Airport has installed a facial recognition system on a trial basis as an added security measure in light of the tragic events of September 11th. While the ACLU certainly understands Fresno Yosemite's interest in increasing security at the airport, we are extremely dismayed and concerned about its decision to install a facial recognition system. Because facial recognition is a highly privacy-invasive technology, we believe its efficacy needs to be considered extremely carefully before it is deployed, whether on a trial or permanent basis. We believe that the effectiveness of facial recognition technology is open to serious question, and therefore, that airports should not be implementing the technology.  

To begin with, facial recognition schemes are of little use without a photographic database of suspects. It is our understanding that the "terrorist database" Fresno Yosemite will be using is both rudimentary and tiny. While we recognize that the FBI and other federal agencies may be working on the database, it is unrealistic to think that it will ever contain the photographs of more than a small fraction of potential international terrorists. The database also could not include more than a tiny fraction of potential domestic terrorists - many of whom, like Timothy McVeigh, have no criminal records. It makes little sense to employ an intrusive system that will have little chance of success. The technology will not only divert resources from more effective efforts, but it will also create a false sense of security that will cause us to let our guard down.  

In addition, studies by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Defense strongly suggest that facial recognition systems, even when tested in far more ideal conditions than those of a bustling airport, would miss a high proportion of suspects included in the photo database, while flagging many innocent people. The Department of Defense study, for instance, found major "false positive" problems, in which the system reported a match when none existed. Police and airport authorities relying on facial recognition systems will therefore be led too often to stop, question, and detain innocent people instead of suspects. If the photo database consists largely, if not exclusively, of Middle Eastern people flagged as terrorists, the result of these numerous "false positives" will fall most heavily on innocent people of Arabic or South Asian descent and lead to yet another pattern of racial profiling in law enforcement.  

On the flip side, the NIST study found a "false negative" rate - which corresponds to when the technology failed to identify persons who should have been identified - of 43 percent when the technology was asked to compare current images with photographs of the same subjects taken just 18 months before. Independent experts agree, as the NIST study demonstrated, that facial recognition systems have trouble recognizing the effects of aging, and that changing hair or beard style or wearing glasses can fool systems. Differences in lighting and camera angles, as well as the fact that individuals are not posing for photos (but are instead being photographed surreptitiously as in Fresno Yosemite) are all known to further increase the inaccuracies of facial recognition systems.  

In fact, several government agencies have abandoned facial recognition systems after finding that they did not work as advertised. For instance, the Immigration and Naturalization Service experimented with facial recognition technology to identify people in cars at the United States-Mexico border, but ultimately decided against using the technology.  

We are concerned as well that there will be enormous pressure to use facial recognition to look for people suspected of non-terrorist activity, such as those with outstanding warrants from local jurisdictions, or even motorists with outstanding speeding tickets. If such an expanded use of facial recognition technology seems far-fetched, it is not. We are hard-pressed to think of a privacy-invasive technology instituted in our time which has been limited to its original use. Indeed, facial recognition technology was used to surreptitiously take the photos of every person attending the Super Bowl this year. Nobody was arrested as a result of this secret surveillance experiment that made every Super Bowl patron part of a giant police line-up. The "matches" found by the system appear to have been either "false positives" or of minor lawbreakers, none of whom were alleged to have done anything illegal during the game. Despite these serious problems with the technology, it was subsequently installed on Tampa's public streets, where its use is even less justifiable than at the Super Bowl.  

The hastiness of Fresno Yosemite's decision to deploy facial recognition technology exacerbates our concerns about the use of the technology. According to our conversations with Ms. Miller, the airport did not undergo serious, formal deliberation before deciding to install facial recognition technology. Rather, the decision was made in an informal manner, and without public participation or debate. It appears that the vendor of the technology (who is providing it free of charge to Fresno Yosemite) will be deciding weighty questions such as who will have access to the database and what level of "match" should trigger an alarm.  

We fully recognize that the right to privacy at airports is not absolute. The right must be balanced against the government and the public's legitimate interest in safety when privacy-intrusive measures significantly promote security. But, we need not even reach that difficult balancing in this case, for there is simply no objective basis to believe that implementation of facial recognition technology at Fresno Yosemite will enhance the security of the air-traveling public in any meaningful way. Instead, its use will create a false sense of security while severely eroding fundamental privacy rights and likely increasing the harassment of innocent people based solely on their ethnic appearance.  

For all of the reasons in this letter, we strongly urge Fresno Yosemite International Airport to reconsider its decision to employ facial recognition technology on a trial basis, and to put on hold any efforts to implement the technology on a permanent basis.  

Thank you for your consideration of our views. Should you have additional questions or concerns, we would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and other appropriate officials so that we can present our views on facial recognition technology in more detail.  

Sincerely,  

Jayashri Srikantiah
ACLU of Northern California  

Barry Steinhardt
American Civil Liberties Union 

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