- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2001

Virginia Beach is the second city in the nation to approve the use of face-recognition surveillance technology after the September 11 attacks shifted support toward the security measure.
The Virginia City Council Tuesday in a 9-1 vote approved a technology called FaceIt that allows police to match the image of a person's face stored on a database with an image captured by cameras scanning crowds in public places.
Supporters of the law enforcement software applauded the move, saying they hope the technology will act as a criminal deterrent and can help police spot criminals as well as missing persons.
"There was overwhelming support among the council and the public," said City Council member William Sessoms. "We're betting on it working."
Opponents say the technology infringes on privacy rights.
"We believe it is a government invasion of individual privacy," said Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It is the government having the ability to trace movements wherever you go, taking pictures to analyze and store. The closest analogy is Big Brother."
The Virginia Beach plan approves the use of a $150,000 state grant to purchase the software from New Jersey-based Visionics Corp. Virginia Beach residents will add $50,000 in matching funds this year to get the program up and running. The program will be able to "map" and identify 80 distinctive points on a face, according to Visionics Corp. It requires 14 of those 80 points aligned with a photo in a database to make a match. The city already has surveillance cameras on the beachfront area.
Council members said the resort city will establish an oversight committee to make sure there is no abuse of the cameras. Photos will be limited to the 2,500 known felons in the area, missing children or elderly residents and criminals suspected of frequenting the city.
Tampa, Fla., was the first city to use the software. The city scanned the crowds at the Super Bowl, capturing more than 100,000 images. Since then, city officials have posted signs alerting the public that "Smart CCTV" is active in areas of the city. Tampa has also put safeguards in place to guard against abuse. The program uses images in their database only of known criminals. Once pictures have been taken, the non-matching images are discarded from the system after digital comparison.
So far, the software has not caught one criminal in Tampa. Proponents say that shows the program is working as a deterrent. Opponents say the technology is not working effectively because the technology is in its infancy.
Support for the program was initially lukewarm, with Mayor Meyera E. Oberndorf and other City Council members opposing the software out of respect for privacy rights. But that was before September 11 and the fact that two known terrorists stayed at a beach hotel.
"It was politically harder to oppose after September 11," said Mr. Willis. "Before then, the measure was steadily losing support."
City Council supporters of the program said a public hearing on the issue last month showed overwhelming public support and agreed that September 11 played a role. But he said the software is necessary, and only criminals have anything to worry about.
"Virginia Beach has the lowest crime rates for a city its size in the nation," said Mr. Sessoms. "This will make sure it stays a safe place."

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