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Facial recognition technology is increasingly used by US federal agencies – this is one of the insights of a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

Three-quarters of large federal agencies, such as the defense, commerce, energy departments and more, are using at least one facial recognition technology within their departments, with more implementations on deck to deploy through 2023.

The Congressional watchdog’s survey of the 24 largest federal agencies showed 18 agencies had deployed some kind of facial recognition technology in 2020.

Use cases of facial recognition reported included criminal investigations, whether for identifying suspects using mugshot databases or identifying crime victims by using commercial systems that compare against publicly available images, such as from social media.

Other uses include physical security, either for granting access at checkpoints or through images captured through video surveillance and matched against a watchlist.

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The most widely-used implementation of facial recognition was for cybersecurity, including digital access to government-issued smartphones and other devices.

Facial recognition methods included verification whereby the technology is used to confirm a person is who they claim to be, such as by taking a photo and matching it to a passport or driver’s license image — and identification — attempting to determine who a person is by matching an image against a database of photos.

Of the 18 agencies that used facial recognition in 2020, 17 either owned the system—built in-house or purchased commercial technology — or accessed a system owned by another federal agency. 

Overall, 10 agencies reported doing research on new or advanced facial recognition techniques, such as identifying people wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The use of facial recognition is on track to expand throughout government, the report notes, with 10 agencies stating they have active plans to deploy additional use cases through 2023, according to nextgov.com.