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Half of American Adults Are In a Face-Recognition Database

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Half of American adults are in a face-recognition database, according to a Georgetown University study released Wednesday. That means there’s about 117 million adults in a law enforcement facial-recognition database, the study by Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology says. The report (PDF), titled “The Perpetual Line-up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America,” shows that one-fourth of the nation’s law enforcement agencies have access to face-recognition databases, and their use by those agencies is virtually unregulated. Where do the mug shots come from? For starters, about 16 states allow the FBI to use facial recognition to compare faces of suspected criminals to their driver’s licenses or ID photos, according to the study. “In this line-up,” the study says, “it’s not a human that points to the suspect — it’s an algorithm.” The study says 26 states or more allow police agencies to “run or request searches” against their databases or driver’s licenses and ID photos. This equates to “roughly one in two American adults has their photos searched this way,” according to the study. Many local police agencies also insert mug shots of people they arrest into searchable, biometric databases, according to the report. According to the report, researchers obtained documents stating that at least five “major police departments,” including those in Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles, “either claimed to run real-time face recognition off of street cameras, bought technology that can do so, or expressed an interest in buying it.” The Georgetown report’s release comes three months after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that the FBI has access to as many as 411.9 million images as part of its face-recognition database. The study also mentioned that the police departments have little oversight of their databases and don’t audit them for misuse: “Maryland’s system, which includes the license photos of over two million residents, was launched in 2011. It has never been audited. The Pinellas Country Sheriff’s Office system is almost 15 years old and may be the most frequently used system in the country. When asked if his office audits searches for misuse, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri replied, “No, not really.” Despite assurances to Congress, the FBI has not audited use of its face recognition system, either. Only nine of 52 agencies (17%) indicated that they log and audit their officers’ face recognition searchers for improper use. Of those, only one agency, the Michigan State Police, provided documentation showing that their audit regime was actually functional.”


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