Real-Time Facial Recognition Offered to Police in New Program

war zone mobile scanner
credit: Cross Match Technologies

Nicholas West
Activist Post

The San Diego Police Department is reporting their involvement in the largest facial recognition program to date. It is something straight out of theaters of war, but is set to hit the streets of America in the very near future if all goes according to plan.

Facial recognition technology, and the databases that catalog and store the results, is advancing at a pace that is difficult to contain. In 2006, the performance of face recognition algorithms were evaluated in the Face Recognition Grand Challenge (FRGC). High-resolution face images, 3-D face scans, and iris images were used in the tests. The results indicated that the new algorithms are 10 times more accurate than the face recognition algorithms of 2002 and 100 times more accurate than those of 1995. Some of the algorithms were able to outperform human participants in recognizing faces and could uniquely identify identical twins. (Source) And that was 2006.

Hometown America mobile scanner
Credit: Roque Hernandez/Univision: image source

One of the latest military-grade systems can now scan 36 million faces per second, or every face in the U.S. within 10 seconds. It is a technology that has trickled down from use in war zones like Afghanistan to catalog potential terrorists, to U.S. border control applications for combating illegal immigration, to FBI crime detection, to post-riot analysis, and right on down to establishing personal ID for a wide range of private companies.

One of the more troubling aspects of what the San Diego PD is looking to implement is that it will be used on the presumably innocent until proven guilty.

We reported in August that the new iPhones had an embedded code for a biometric kit including a fingerprint censor among other features.

As further evidence that these technologies are being introduced with dual-use functions, the San Diego PD is employing smartphones and tablets like the Samsung Galaxy to not only collect biometric information, but then use an existing database to draw matches in real time to those formerly arrested:

On a residential street in San Diego County, Calif., Chula Vista police had just arrested a young woman, still in her pajamas, for possession of narcotics. Before taking her away, Officer Rob Halverson paused in the front yard, held a Samsung Galaxy tablet up to the woman’s face and snapped a photo.

Halverson fiddled with the tablet with his index finger a few times, and – without needing to ask the woman’s name or check her identification – her mug shot from a previous arrest, address, criminal history and other personal information appeared on the screen.

Halverson had run the woman’s photograph through the Tactical Identification System, a new mobile facial recognition technology now in the hands of San Diego-area law enforcement. In an instant, the system matches images taken in the field with databases of about 348,000 San Diego County arrestees. The system itself has nearly 1.4 million booking photos because many people have multiple mug shots on record.

As noted by the Center for Investigative Reporting, this technology is being rolled out without public hearings or dialogue. While the above example is offered as a supposedly clear-cut arrest of a repeat offender, the raft of abuses by the NSA and other intelligence agencies and government entities misusing “metadata” indicates a more shadowy system. Apparently, this is of exactly zero concern to the new militarized police force spreading across America:

Twenty-five local, state and federal law enforcement agencies – including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Border Patrol, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and San Diego State University –participate in the system. The project is coordinated by the San Diego Association of Governments and relies on a vast data-sharing program called the Automated Regional Justice Information System.

For some, the use of biometric technology by police represents a radical milestone in the militarization of American law enforcement.

For years, technology that was developed on the battlefield has been migrating into domestic police agencies. Since 9/11, America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have sped up that transfer. Facial recognition technology, which has been widely used by the military, is the next frontier.

“What we’re seeing now is much more surveillance oriented, and it’s in the guise of preventative policing,” said Kevin Keenan, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “It’s really this aspiration of prevention and social control through the monitoring of everyone’s every action and storage in perpetuity.”

San Diego’s program, if considered successful, easily could expand beyond the county’s borders.

And it most likely will … and then some. There simply has been too much invested in a coming Minority Report world to turn back now. They are going full steam ahead whether the public likes it or not. And wait until the drones take to the skies in full force come 2015. They, too, will be equipped with facial recognition linked to the growing databases.

The plan is so openly touted that even the establishment Associated Press had to report on it:

From seeing just the image of a face, computers will find its match in a database of millions of driver’s license portraits and photos on social media sites. From there, the computer will link to the person’s name and details such as their Social Security number, preferences, hobbies, family and friends.

Adding that capability to drones that can fly into spaces where planes cannot — machines that can track a person moving about and can stay aloft for days — means that people will give up privacy as well as the concept of anonymity. (Source)

It is important to keep in mind that one need not be found guilty of anything to wind up in this particular database, only arrested … or secretly put there via data sweep as we already have seen in the area of communications.

With the increasing police state and new laws and regulations that one could be in violation of at any given moment, arrests will explode offering plenty of fodder for the databases.

The FBI has already been sued over the same type of secrecy and plans for the wide-scale use of biometric databases. The Electronic Frontier Foundation launched a suit against the FBI’s sweeping plans for an upgrade to their existing systems and databases:

Since early 2011, EFF has been closely following the FBI’s work to build out its Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometrics database, which would replace and expand upon the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). The new program will include multiple biometric identifiers, such as iris scans, palm prints, face-recognition-ready photos, and voice data, and that information will be shared with other agencies at the local, state, federal and international levels. The face recognition component is set to launch in 2014.

“NGI will result in a massive expansion of government data collection for both criminal and noncriminal purposes,” says EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch, who testified before the U.S. Senate on the privacy implications of facial recognition technology in July of last year. “Biometrics programs present critical threats to civil liberties and privacy. Face-recognition technology is among the most alarming new developments, because Americans cannot easily take precautions against the covert, remote, and mass capture of their images.”

When one connects the above data points and tracks the current developments and dates of planned implementation, it doesn’t look good for privacy in the United States. What is your opinion? Could additional leaks from whistleblowers and the work of digital privacy activists help to thwart plans to enter all citizens into the real-time surveillance matrix, or will they serve only to chronicle our coming enslavement?


Hat tip: The Verge

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