Friday, August 14, 2015

My Take: Facial Recognition Software is a Problem

I've written before about the subtle but real ways that police and other government agencies are usurping our Fourth Amendment protections. There is a good summary in an article titled, What Does the Fourth Amendment Mean?

The latest in the instances where we need to critically review Fourth Amendment protections was highlighted in a New York Times article yesterday describing how the San Diego police department may be misusing facial recognition software. 

Imagine this--you are stopped by police for a traffic violation. Remember, most traffic offenses are not criminal offenses. The officer takes your picture to run it through facial recognition software and swabs your mouth to collect a DNA sample. 

As quoted from the article, here was the real world response to this situation:


Lt. Scott Wahl, a spokesman for the 1,900-member San Diego Police Department, said the department does not require police officers to file a report when they use the facial recognition technology but do not make an arrest. 
“It is a test product for the region that we’ve allowed officers to use,” he said of facial recognition software and the hand-held devices the police use to take pictures. “We don’t even know how many are out there” in the region.

And that is the real problem. "We don't even know how many are out there."

Why are protections from unreasonable police actions being allowed? Even worse, what is being done to control the technology and the images and DNA samples that were taken. How are these being handled? How long are they being stored? When will they be destroyed, especially more compelling since no criminal charges were files, and in the case of one of the men in the article, no charges of any kind were filed and he was not even suspected of breaking the law.

With the breaches of extremely sensitive and personal data that have splashed through the news lately on a federal government level, what reasonable expectation is there that data collected by local police departments is secure?


Unless there is a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is involved, personal information should not be collected especially since recent history proves that in an electronic form it cannot be protected.

I do not want my image as collected by law enforcement or my DNA profile available to hackers trolling the internet! And did I mention, that facial recognition software is not 100 percent accurate? There are probabilities associated with the identification and therefore it is possible for an innocent person to be caught up in a legal morass which ultimately will involve time, large sums of money, and lawyers to be exonerated.

This most personal and private of data needs the utmost protection, and even more important should never be collected and therefore not require protection.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

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