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Police covertly scanned every face of Boston concertgoers in field test of facial recognition technology

Facial recognition

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(NaturalNews) Concert attendees at last year's annual Boston Calling music festivals were not there simply to watch the show. In fact, they were, themselves, "watched," if you will, by the Boston Police Department, which was covertly testing new facial recognition technology that analyzed every concertgoer at the two-day events in May and September.

Employees at IBM, the contractor involved in working with the department to deploy the technology, planned the test of its Smart Surveillance System and Intelligence Video Analytics to perform "face capture" on "every person" at the concerts last year.

Targets were described "as anyone who walks through the door," according to company memos obtained by Dig Boston.

'No, we don't know anything about it'

As reported by The Daily Caller:

Using 10 cameras capable of intelligent video analysis, police and IBM captured thousands of faces and scanned individuals for details including skin color, height and clothing to screen for possible forensic identification. The tech also watched traffic and crowd congestion, searched for suspicious objects and monitored social media in real-time.

Concertgoers and promoters for the events were completely unaware of the operation, which was conducted amid several media representatives and photographers who were regularly in attendance during the public event, where, granted, expectations of privacy are at a minimum. Still, a good rule of thumb for public officials to use when considering such operations is this: If they are not willing to actually tell the public what they are doing, then they probably should not be doing it.

Nevertheless, sensitive documents detailing the program were found by accident, unsecured, online, where they have reportedly resided for more than a year. The images and video and additional information obtained by the program will be kept for months and perhaps years, long after the sorting process deems it unnecessary. Also, more than 50 hours of video footage from the events are still intact, The DC reported. And other data, which is being stored online by Boston PD in unsecured services, include driver licenses, addresses and parking permit info.

The department at first denied that it was involved in the program during the events at City Hall Plaza; an email from a department representative said that "BPD was not part of this initiative."

"We do not and have not used or possess this type of technology," the department wrote to Dig.


But files on the program that were discovered online include photographic evidence showing Boston officers present inside IBM's program monitoring stations, as well as getting instructions on how to use the technology. When presented with the photographic evidence, Boston PD officials finally had to admit that the department was indeed involved.

"The city of Boston engaged in a pilot program with IBM, testing situational awareness software for two events hosted on City Hall Plaza: Boston Calling in May 2013, and Boston Calling in September 2013," Kate Norton, press secretary of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, wrote in an email to the publication.

"The purpose of the pilot was to evaluate software that could make it easier for the city to host large, public events, looking at challenges such as permitting, basic services, crowd and traffic management, public safety, and citizen engagement through social media and other channels," Norton said. "These were technology demonstrations utilizing pre-existing hardware (cameras) and data storage systems."

According to her statement, the city apparently found the "situational awareness software" to not have much "practical value." Thus, as a result, the city will not be pursuing implementation of the surveillance technology. The city also said that it does not currently have guidelines outlining the use of, or barring the use of, facial surveillance technology at large public events.

Americans remember that the Boston Marathon was the site of the country's most recent terrorist attack. And, with that in mind, it is a safe bet that most Bostonians would have approved of the city's attempt to test such technology, especially under the current circumstances.

But one of the reasons why, increasingly, fewer and fewer Americans have much trust in their governing institutions is because of instances like this, where a government entity blatantly violates a basic civil and constitutional right, then lies about it when caught.

Again, if officials have to hide something that they are doing, they probably should not be doing it.





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