In Your Face: Law Enforcement Expands Its Use of Mobile Face-Recognition Technology

In another example of how technology is changing not just criminal justice but life as we know it, San Diego County has been quietly rolling out a new facial recognition system that will affect how police conduct simple stops on Americans.

The system, which allows officers to use mobile devices to collect face images in the field, already has a database of 1.4 million images, and it serves nearly 25 federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies in the region. These include federal agencies like the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) as well as state and local agencies such as the California Highway Patrol, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, and the San Diego Unified School District. Apparently, even the California Department of Insurance and the Del Mar Park Rangers now have mobile face-recognition devices. The system returns high-accuracy results in about eight seconds.

Because the system allows officers to upload photos right from the field, one concern is that an officer can stop a person on the street, take her picture, and enter that picture in a biometric database based on little or no suspicion. Another is that, while the devices are supposed to be issued to “terrorism liaison” officers, none of the documentation so far has shown any nexus between their use and terrorism investigations.

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