Have you been in a police lineup lately?
If you think the answer is no, you should think again.
Because, thanks to a massive surge in law enforcement use of face recognition technology, over half the adults in the U.S. are actually in a perpetual lineup. Their pictures are being matched against suspected criminals every day of the week, without their knowledge or consent.
Local and state police and the FBI have access to a network of databases that allows them to comb through mugshots, driver’s license and state ID photos of over 117 million people. This is an unprecedented assault on our civil liberties, and it is being done largely in secret and without regulation or oversight. And police want to expand the program! Many departments (including Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas) are actively exploring using face recognition on live surveillance video. So everytime you step outside in one of those cities, your face would be scanned and, potentially identified.
As usual, Congress is asleep at the wheel. We need a law to govern how law enforcement uses this technology so our privacy and civil rights won’t be abused. And we need it now.
Face recognition technology is leaping forward and law enforcement at all levels is embracing it, usually without any safeguards. Not only do huge government biometric databases raise privacy concerns, but the technology is often inaccurate (particularly when searching African-American or female faces), and has been deployed against people engaged in First Amendment protected activity.
The Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law just published a report: The Perpetual Lineup: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America that details all of this and more. Most importantly perhaps, the report contains model legislation local coalitions can promote in their own state, as well as the questions you should be asking your elected officials and local police. Stay tuned for information about a webinar with the authors of the report in the next month or so.