- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

The electronic surveillance industry insists its mission is not unwarranted snooping but protecting public safety.
To demonstrate that, industry leaders are calling for either federal legislation or adoption of voluntary guidelines to safeguard against misuse of closed-circuit television cameras and new "facial recognition" cameras by police agencies that use the devices as crime-fighting weapons.
"This technology is about public safety and life safety. It is an invaluable tool for law enforcement to ensure we have safe communities in which we raise our families. It is designed to watch out for you, not to watch you," Richard Chace, executive director of the Security Industry Association, said yesterday at a news conference at the National Press Club.
"But we can't let technology go unchecked," said Mr. Chace, whose organization represents more than 350 electronic security equipment manufacturers, distributors and service providers worldwide.
"I feel I need help from the federal government to make sure there is no misuse," said Joseph J. Atick, president and CEO of Visionics Corp. of Jersey City, N.J.
Visionics is the firm that developed FaceIt, the computerized facial recognition technology recently installed in an entertainment district of Tampa Bay, Fla., to try to catch criminals.
In a control room, FaceIt analyses a video feed from 36 closed-circuit television cameras placed around the area known as the Ybor Center. As Mr. Atick explained yesterday, the software "instantly converts faces appearing in the field of view to 'faceprints.'" A "faceprint" is a digital code that measures a person's facial structure. "It can be used just like a fingerprint to establish someone's identity," he said.
Mr. Atick said the software "matches the live faceprint to those stored in a watch list mug shot database of criminals." If a match occurs, he said, the system sounds an alarm, and a trained officer compares the images.
Critics of FaceIt and other surveillance technology such as those being used to catch speeders have ranged from the liberal American Civil Liberties Union to conservative House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican. The ACLU says such technology invades privacy and raises constitutional questions about illegal searches.
The terms "Orwellian" or "Big Brother" have been used frequently in news accounts about the surveillance devices.
Mr. Chace said the purpose of yesterday's news conference was to "change the debate" about this new, high-tech equipment. Until now, he said, most media reports have focused on "privacy issues and the potential implications of government abuse."
"It is time to stop focusing solely on how this technology could be potentially abused and start talking about how the technology can be positively used in a responsible and effective way," he said.
"It is time to focus on shoring up constructive public safety policies that remove any fear of 'Big Brother,'" he said, adding:
"It is time to stop irresponsible grandstanding and fear-mongering and to start open and honest dialogue on the shaping of policies which will ensure responsible use."
As for privacy concerns, Mr. Atick said courts have "consistently found" that a person cannot expect privacy in a public place.
He also said that faces that do not match a "criminal or a person under active criminal investigation … should be purged instantly from the system."

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