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Half of America already in law enforcement's facial recognition network

Facial recognition

(NaturalNews) The digital and information age has been a tremendous technological advancement for humankind, but with these advances have come pitfalls mostly in the form of threats to basic civil and constitutional liberties.

A recent news story from the website Vocativ makes this plain in noting that already half of all Americans are in some form of facial recognition network, each of which are available to law enforcement.

A comprehensive new study was conducted over the course of a year by Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Technology, Vocativ noted. The study relied, in part, on Freedom of Information Act requests and other public records from 106 law enforcement agencies.

Researchers found that police use of facial recognition technology in the U.S. is being done under a scattered, hodgepodge network of laws and regulations. In short, there isn't much standing in the way of police using this technology, despite the fact that most have never consented to having their faces placed in such databases.

"Looking at the sum total of what we found, there have been no laws that comprehensively regulate face recognition technology, and there's really no case law either," said Clare Garvie, an associate at Georgetown's CPT, in an interview with Vocativ.

As such, she continued, Americans must rely on police departments to sort of self-regulate. However, Garvie said that what researchers found – "by a long shot" – is that there are little in the way of "use" policies.

Your privacy is subject to government interpretation

The reason why so many American adults are in at least one facial recognition system is primarily due to the fact that, in at least half of states (and probably more), department of motor vehicle databases are shared with the FBI, state police agencies or other law enforcement entities, according to the Georgetown study.

That is compounded by the fact that often, police also have access to mugshot databases, researchers said.

The study found that most law enforcement agencies do not purge facial recognition data from their systems, even if arrested suspects are eventually found to be innocent – unless such purging is court-ordered. The one exception researchers found was the Michigan State Police, where officials said the department expunges all photos after a certain amount of time has passed.

The problem is pervasive – and growing. In the course of the study the federal Government Accountability Office revealed that almost 64 million Americans would have no say in the matter if police asked them to come to the station to stand in a line-up. In all, researchers found, 117 million Americans are in some sort of facial recognition database.

The technology actually isn't very new, but neither is it rare. Researchers found that FBI facial recognition searches are actually more common than court-ordered wiretaps. And at least one out of four state or local police agencies has the option of running facial recognition searches either through their own systems or those of another police department.

Where's Congress on this?

Researchers said one of the pitfalls of such wide use of facial recognition is that different uses create different risks.

"A face recognition search conducted in the field to verify the identity of someone who has been legally stopped or arrested is different, in principle and effect, than an investigatory search of an ATM photo against a driver's license database, or continuous, real-time scans of people walking by a surveillance camera. The former is targeted and public. The latter are generalized and invisible," the study noted.

Garvie said that these facial recognition systems are used on Americans without their consent, and without any court order, most often – a clear violation of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment.

But to many departments, that doesn't seem to matter. Nor does it matter enough to Congress, which has yet to pass legislation that recognizes constitutional privacy protections and mandates facial recognition procedures.





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