The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Massachusetts today sued the federal government for information on its face surveillance activities, including FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) use of facial recognition technology.

The ACLU notes 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 seeks 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.

“Technology has outpaced our civil rights law,” said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Face surveillance technology poses unique risks to people’s privacy, safety, and civil liberties. As state lawmakers consider a statewide moratorium on the government’s use of this technology, and Congress considers its own legislation, the public urgently needs to know how the federal government is using face surveillance and other remote biometric monitoring systems in Massachusetts and across the nation.”

The ACLU initially filed a public records request in January 2019. Both the FBI and DEA acknowledged receipt of the request in February, but have since failed to produce any responsive documents or records. According to the lawsuit, responsive documents will 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.

In June, 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. An ACLU poll shows 79 percent of voters support a moratorium on government use of face surveillance technology, which is currently unregulated in Massachusetts. An ACLU-backed bill currently before Massachusetts legislators on Beacon Hill would establish a statewide moratorium on government use of face surveillance and other biometric screening technologies until the legislature imposes checks and balances to protect the public’s interest.

Learn about the case