Facial recognition software, which U.S. military and intelligence agencies used in Iraq and Afghanistan to identify terrorists, is being eagerly adopted by dozens of police departments around the nation to pursue drug dealers, prostitutes and other conventional criminal suspects says the New York Times. Because it is used with few guidelines and with little oversight or public disclosure, it is raising issues of privacy and concerns about potential misuse. Law enforcement officers say the technology is much faster than fingerprinting at identifying suspects. Among cities that use the technology are New York and Chicago, which has linked it to 25,000 surveillance cameras in an effort to fight street crime.
Lt. Scott Wahl of the 1,900-member San Diego Police Department said his agency does not require police officers to file a report when they use the facial recognition technology but do not make an arrest. “It is a test product for the region that we've allowed officers to use,” he said of facial recognition software and the hand-held devices the police use to take pictures. “We don't even know how many are out there” in the region. Over 33 days in January and February, 26 San Diego law enforcement agencies used the software to try to identify people on more than 20,600 occasions, although officers found a match to criminal records only 25 percent of the time. Some say misuse is common. “I get a call about facial recognition maybe twice a month,” said Victor Manuel Torres, a San Diego civil rights lawyer. “The complaint is always that they did it and didn't get permission. 'The police put me in cuffs and I'm on the curb, and they pull out an iPad and are taking pictures.' “