ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The state of New Mexico allows the FBI to scan its database of driver license photos to see if the pictures match a wanted suspect, one of just 16 states that open their photo vaults to the agency.
The state agency overseeing the license database says the federal law enforcement agency tapped into it 240 times in 2016.
A recent report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology raised alarm about the practice nationwide. But it had high praise for how the Albuquerque Police Department uses its facial recognition technology.
The study, titled “The Perpetual Line-Up,” ranked Albuquerque’s as the top police department for restraint and noted it was among the “few agencies that have instituted meaningful protections to prevent the misuse of the technology,” the Albuquerque Journal reported (https://bit.ly/2hX0wfX).
The technology allows investigators to match images from a photo or a surveillance video to databases of law enforcement booking photos shots and state driver’s licenses with accompanying identifying information.
Law enforcement advocates say the technology has helped solve crimes, but civil rights groups warn that the technology is a step toward unconstitutional government surveillance.
Georgetown researchers surveyed 100 police departments across the nation, then looked at how each used facial recognition technology and the controls each in place to prevent abuse.
T.J. Wilham, director of the Albuquerque Police Real Time Crime Center, said his agency developed rules that are designed to prevent abuse of the technology.
“The RTCC documents every time it is involved in a call for service,” Wilham told the Journal after a recent tour of facility. “There are strict audit trails in place to ensure our resources are used appropriately. Conducting surveillance is not a part of our mission.”
American Civil Liberties Union leaders, however, say they are still concerned about privacy if government agencies can identify a person by scanning their face in public. They also note that the current technology is inefficient at identifying white faces and even less accurate when analyzing nonwhite faces.
The city police force doesn’t allow investigators to tap into the state database unless they have probable cause to arrest the person they want to identify.
It also was the only department surveyed that also limits use of the technology in “moderate risk deployments,” to searches on limited databases excluding driver’s license databases.
That’s a contrast from other departments that allow officers to take cellphone pictures of people in car crashes or stopped for traffic tickets and run their photos through facial recognition software.
A handful of departments in the nation also have or are seeking technology allowing them to scan live video feeds at sports events or protests.
Albuquerque doesn’t have that expensive technology, but Wilham said it’s likely to acquire it in the future.
Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com
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