In October 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the federal government, seeking information on its face surveillance activities, including FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) use of facial recognition technology.

The ACLU initially filed a public records request in January 2019. Both the FBI and DEA acknowledged receipt of the request in February, but failed to produce any responsive documents or records. According to the lawsuit, responsive documents would inform the public about how face surveillance technology is currently used by the government, and what, if any, safeguards are in place to protect core constitutional rights.

The ACLU noted in its complaint that face surveillance and other biometric identification and tracking technology permit the government to pervasively track people’s movements and associations in ways that threaten core constitutional values. The ACLU’s lawsuit sought the release of each agency’s guidelines and policies regarding the use of face surveillance technology, communications with private companies about the purchase, piloting, or testing of the technology, and records relating to the number of face recognition searches performed by the relevant agency, among other records.

The complaint followed a July 2019 lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, in which the ACLU sought records related to Commonwealth’s use of face surveillance technology. In particular, the ACLU asked for information about use of face surveillance by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, and the extent to which this information is shared with other state and federal agencies.

In June 2019, the ACLU of Massachusetts launched “Press Pause on Face Surveillance,” a campaign to build awareness about the civil liberties concerns posed by face surveillance technology and the need to pass a statewide moratorium on the government’s use of the technology.


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Dan McFadden and Matthew Segal (ACLU of Massachusetts); Brett Kaufman and Nate Wessler (National ACLU); David Glod and Nathaniel C. Donohue (Rich May, P.C.)