Will Facial Recognition Technology Catch Criminal Suspects?

If you post personal photos to social media services like Facebook or Instagram, you may not realize that you are actually helping to the development facial recognition technology. According to a June 2015 report in the Washington Post, Facebook alone has “more than 250 billion user-uploaded photos,” which the company utilizes as part of a facial recognition program that helps “tag” you in other people’s photos. Not surprisingly, this technology is also of interest to police and law enforcement agencies, which in turn makes facial recognition a criminal defense issue.

The FBI and Next Generation Identification

In 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced its “Next Generation Identification” (NGI) program. The NGI is a database containing biometric information about millions of people—up to one-third of the U.S. population, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital privacy rights organization. NGI incorporates not only traditional identifying information like fingerprints, but also facial recognition technology. And we are not just talking about mugshots. As of last year, the FBI had an estimated 52 million pictures on file, including 4.3 million images “taken for non-criminal purposes,” according to the EFF. And the EFF noted that at least 1 million of these photos came from unidentified sources.

At the local level, a number of police departments have also deployed facial recognition technology for use in their own criminal investigations. A September 2014 report from Emergency Management noted police departments in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Charleston, West Virginia, were conducting pilot programs to help identify criminal suspects using facial recognition. The Charleston police said facial recognition technology helped “identify two grand larceny suspects,” by comparing video taken at the crime scene with a prior mugshot.

Is Facial Recognition Reliable?

The EFF noted there was a significant risk of “false positives” with the NGI database. The FBI has acknowledged that the accuracy of its facial recognition technology is only about 85 percent. “This means that many people will be presented as suspects for crimes they didn’t commit,” the EFF said in its 2014 report.

There are also significant privacy implications for facial recognition technology. As noted above, one does not have to have a mugshot or been charged with a crime to have their photo appear in the FBI’s database. If you have ever applied for a job that requires a photo as part of a background check, the FBI could have your image in its NGI system.

Finally, there are few federal or state laws governing the collection and use of facial recognition databases. Texas is actually one of the few states with any laws in this area. In 2001, the state legislature decided to restrict the collection of “biometric data” by private companies. According to the Washington Post, legislators specifically passed this law “with facial recognition in mind.” But the Texas law does not apply to law enforcement agencies.

Contact a Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer

The continuing uncertainty about the law in this area highlights the importance of defending your rights should you ever be charged with a crime. A Collin County federal criminal defense lawyer can advise you of your rights in any criminal investigation. Contact the offices of Rosenthal & Wadas, PLLC, if you need to speak with a Frisco criminal defense attorney right away.

Posted in Federal Criminal Defense

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