Police departments all over the US are eagerly adopting facial recognition software to aid in pursuit of conventional criminal suspects.
According to The New York Times, US police departments are following in the footsteps of American military and intelligence agencies that have been using these systems in Iraq and Afghanistan for identifying terrorists.
They are looking to the software to assist in identifying suspects such as prostitutes, drug dealers, etc.
However, initial use of the software has raised concerns of possible misuse and privacy violations.
According to Biometric Update, there are advantages to using this technology that are appreciated by police. According to law enforcement officers, facial recognition works much faster than fingerprinting when identifying suspects.
So far, however, it isn’t clear if the new technology will increase the number or accuracy of arrests.
In 2013, officers stopped suspect Aaron Harvey and searched his car. The officer then took Harvey’s photograph to run through facial recognition to identify him and search for a criminal record.
Last summer, Eric Hanson, a 58-year-old retired firefighter, had a similar experience with the system.
Hanson was stopped by police after a disagreement with a man whom he said was a burglar.
Hanson was ordered to sit on the curb while police took his photograph and ran the facial recognition software. Officers also used a cotton swab to collect DNA sample from inside of his cheek.
The photographing and DNA swab in these incidents raised privacy concerns with the suspects.
“I was thinking, ‘Why are you taking pictures of me, doing this to me?’” said Hanson, who has no criminal record. “I felt like my identity was being stolen. I’m a straight-up, no lie, cheat or steal guy, and I get treated like a criminal.”
A spokesman for the San Diego Police Department, Lt. Scott Wahl, said officers were not properly trained on how to use the facial recognition software lawfully, as there is still no written policy. Using the software doesn’t require police to file a report unless there is an arrest made. There are no records of the stops of Hanson and Harvey.
“It is a test product for the region that we’ve allowed officers to use,” Wahl said in regards to the facial recognition software and the hand-held picture-taking devices. “We don’t even know how many are out there.”
Wahl also added that they use the technology within reason and not freely.
“We don’t just drive around taking people’s pictures and start swabbing them,” he said.