Government Wary Of Some High-Tech Crime Fighting

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Texas thought it had found a cheap, effective, high-tech way to fight crime, Governing Magazine reports: Driver’s license applicants would provide biometric information – data on unique physical features that can be turned into numbers that serve as identification. That would become part of a database to ensure that Texans weren't acquiring multiple driver's licenses or licenses under false names. The information could be shared with other agencies to fight crimes, from identity theft to terrorism. The Texas House of Representatives defeated the plan decisively. “People posed questions, the black helicopters started flying, and it went down in flames,” said a legislative aide.

The case suggests a reluctance among government officials and the general public to accept new security technology, the magazine concludes. Questions about the effectiveness of the technology, complaints about its intrusiveness, and concerns about amassing personal information in electronic databases have state and local governments adopting a go-slow approach. Opponents in Texas focused on the plan’s provisions for data sharing as a potential for abuse.

West Virginia has been using biometrics, including facial-recognition photos and voluntary fingerprint scans, for nearly six years to confirm the identification of state residents renewing their driver's licenses. The information is used solely by the motor vehicles agency.

Virginia Beach, Va., may have found the middle road on the surveillance issue. The city uses facial-recognition cameras to enhance public safety but in a way that has not riled up privacy advocates. Even before 9/11, Virginia Beach began discussing the placement of facial-recognition cameras on its waterfront. After the terrorist attacks, city officials approved the proposal, while the state legislature debated the issue.

Virginia Beach created a committee of residents to help draft policy on the cameras’ use. The city required signs to let residents and visitors know where the cameras were located. It also instructed officers to be polite when informing anyone they were being questioned as a result of a match in the facial-recognition database. Any images captured by the cameras were required to be destroyed if they didn't capture a hit from the database. But the cameras have yet to catch anyone.


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