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Half of Americans in Facial Recognition Databases

Published: Dec 30, 2016 in Criminal Defense

Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology recently released a report finding that the faces of more than 117 million American adults are in searchable police databases. Even more alarming, it is estimated that one in four state and local law enforcement agencies can access face recognition databases, which is largely unregulated. In what amounts to a perpetual, virtual line-ups, the use of face recognition by law enforcement certainly raises serious privacy and civil liberty concerns.

What is Face Recognition Technology?

Face recognition is a computerized process, which uses an algorithm to compare facial images and determine whether it is the same person. The algorithm produces one of two responses; a photo or set of photos it believes to be a possible match or an indication that there are no matching photos. However, face recognition algorithms do not produce 100 percent accurate results and studies have found that some systems exhibit patterns of racial bias.

How Do the Police Use Face Recognition?

Police use face recognition systems for two primary reasons; to confirm someone’s claimed identity and to identify an unknown face. Being able to identify an unknown face can be incredibly helpful to law enforcement in a variety of scenarios. According to the report, the four most common scenarios include:

  • Identifying someone who refuses to give the officer his or her name during a police stop or encounter. The officer can take a picture of the person in the field using a smartphone and process it using face recognition software.
  • Police can also upload an arrestee’s mug shot during the booking process, which can then be searched against an existing database to locate a person’s arrest record.
  • During the investigation of a crime, the police can use a photo or video still they obtained from security footage or social media to run a face recognition search, which contains mug shots, driver’s licenses, or faces from unsolved crimes. This allows the police to acquire a list of names for further investigation, or identify a suspect that is using a pseudonym.
  • Police also use what is known as real-time face recognition, which is technology that mines live footage from security cameras and continuously compares it to the images of persons that are being pursued by law enforcement, but whose location is unknown. When the technology finds a match, it alerts local law enforcement.

Overall, the study revealed that of the 52 agencies that admitted to using face recognition, only one acquired legislative approval and only one agency provided evidence that it audited officers’ face recognition searches for misuse. Clearly, there needs to be greater oversight and accountability when it comes to law enforcement’s use of this technology.

How an Experienced Houston Criminal Lawyer Can Help

If you are facing criminal charges, you need the help of an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney. Ned Barnett has nearly 30 years of practical legal experience and is a certified criminal lawyer by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He understands how overwhelming it can feel to be charged with a crime and will aggressively fight to protect your record, freedom, and future. He has the skills and knowledge to challenge the prosecutor’s case against you and will work tirelessly to secure the best possible outcome in your case.

Contact the Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 to receive a free consultation.