(NEW YORK DAILY NEWS) Imagine a world where, as you drive into — or even walk through — New York City, your face is scanned and compared to a list of suspected terrorists or other serious criminals. Would this make you feel safe?
Now, imagine that the technology is error-prone, and may misidentify innocent people as suspects. What about now?
These are not rhetorical questions. New York is in the early stages of acquiring state-of-the-art face recognition technology to scan the faces of all drivers commuting between the boroughs of New York City.
The New York Police Department is already using face recognition to investigate crimes, and has done so since 2011. As of last year, its facial identification unit had conducted “more than 8,500 facial recognition investigations, with over 3,000 possible matches, and approximately 2,000 arrests,” according to a former NYPD official who helped establish the unit.
And though there are as yet no plans to put the technology aboard the body-worn cameras coming to all uniformed officers in the near future, don’t expect that to be very far behind. A 2016 study commissioned by the Department of Justice found 10 body-worn camera companies that advertise current or future face recognition integration with their systems.
Face recognition is a powerful tool. It allows police to identify people from a distance and in secret. The technology works by comparing a photo or video of an unknown face to a database of known faces-such as mugshots, driver’s license photos or a watchlist of wanted individuals — and providing a list of possible candidate matches. So long as it captures your face, a police surveillance video or a photo posted to a social media page can be used to identify you in a matter of seconds.
Use of the technology will provide real public safety benefits. It may allow the police to catch terrorists or dangerous criminals. But without appropriate oversight, its use by police also poses real threats to the privacy, civil rights and civil liberties of millions of innocent New Yorkers.
And right now, no real oversight is in place.