- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

A New Jersey company that developed face-recognition technology to help police identify suspected criminals said yesterday it would support federal legislation that addresses privacy concerns about the surveillance.
Last month, Tampa, Fla., became the first U.S. city to use face-recognition software developed by Visionics Corp. to track down criminals.
But Visionics and Tampa city officials drew criticism from privacy groups, civil liberties groups and conservative politicians worried about invasion of privacy.
In the wake of that criticism, Visionics President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph J. Atick said the company intends to promote federal legislation to prevent potential misuse of the technology.
"We recognize that biometrics are powerful technologies. For us, it was important that our industry guidelines become universal public policy so no one abuses face-recognition technology," Mr. Atick said.
He said legislation should require:
Posting signs to inform people where surveillance cameras are located.
Guidelines indicating how images of people photographed are stored, how long they are stored and what police agencies they are shared with.
Images of people caught on camera who don't match photographs in police databases be deleted.
Drafting of penalties for those who violate the privacy guidelines.
The Visionics system in Tampa relies on 36 cameras to scan faces and compare them to the police department's database of 30,000 mug shots using 80 facial features. If the computer finds a match, it alerts law enforcement agencies and they compare the images themselves.
Critics of the Visionics face-recognition technology said establishing a legal framework could ease some concerns.
"As it stands, it amounts to an electronic lineup," American Civil Liberties Union Associate Director Barry Steinhardt said.
But even with privacy legislation guiding use of face-recognition technology, critics say, it is unclear whether privacy advocates will accept its use.
It invades the privacy of people who have not broken the law, opens the possibility of erroneous arrest and places people under surveillance in public places, even though they haven't agreed that it should be used, they contend.
"It's a matter of not deploying this technology unless there are clear guidelines and protections. The problem is this stuff is installed without guidelines, with no community input, no debate and no procedures for the people using it to follow," said David Sobel, general counsel of D.C.-based privacy advocate Electronic Privacy and Information Center.
The Tampa City Council approved the use the Visionics system this year without a public hearing. It is the only U.S. city using the technology. Last week a group of activists protested the city's use of the technology.
A spokesman for Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican and House majority leader, said the system shouldn't be used in any case. Mr. Armey joined civil liberties groups in lambasting Tampa for using the face-recognition software.
"The potential for abuse that is inherent in this system is not going to be solved by legislation. It's not the kind of thing that should be used on city streets," spokesman Richard Diamond said.
The use of cameras on private property including banks and convenience stores has become widespread. But their use on public property is new.
Even though Visionics said it will support privacy laws, Mr. Steinhardt said he is skeptical that the industry will support a law limiting the use of equipment.
He said the trade group International Biometrics Industry Association tried to stop legislation in California that would impose restrictions on face-recognition technology.
That bill called for a ban on the use of face-recognition technology by state and local government, and it is expected to be modified.
"The key is that there be a balance. We do support controls," International Biometric Industry Association Executive Director Richard Norton said.
Those controls include compliance with local laws, posting signs to let people know where the equipment is used and never storing images of people who aren't in police mug-shot files.

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