Facial Recognition Software is Creeping in

We’ve reported on this before, but its use is intensifying. What the government can’t do via a national police force, it can do by funding local police agencies across the country. The Department of Homeland Security is providing funding to local police agencies for all kinds of technology aids in tracking “suspicious persons”. Seattle now joins the growing list of police agencies across the country using facial recognition software to scan local surveillance cameras looking for … who knows what. Ostensibly they are using the scans to look for suspects in criminal activity, but this type of dragnet is pretty broad. The scans are made against national databases maintained by the government and based on photos taken from driver’s license and passport photos across the nation. How these are being used to track crime isn’t exactly clear.

When police complain that they are under-funded and under-staffed, it’s hard to reconcile that with arrests I’ve seen where 9 police officers come out of a closet in a hotel room to make one prostitution bust.  I’ve seen this kind of emphasis on “Vice” activity regularly, but I never get an answer as to why it’s a priority. But isn’t it obvious? The laughter and the smirks on officer’s faces when they confront an arrested prostitution patron tell the whole story, it’s just another form of amusement and titillation that beats the heck out of walking the beat or working a crime scene. And now the government is using your tax dollars ($1.6 million in Seattle’s case) to give officers more things to look at instead of criminals on the street.

The privacy concerns are real and they are frightening in their own right. But the outright waste of money and resources that are being gobbled up just because they are there is outrageous. I’ve yet to hear a cogent argument explaining the value of running hours and hours of random surveillance scans through public databases on the off chance that something, somehow criminal *might* be happening.

– RP