Facial Recognition Is Law Enforcement’s Newest Weapon Against Protesters
Police in Seattle, Austin, and Dallas, as well as the FBI have asked for images of violence and protests
As protests engulf the country following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police, law enforcement agencies with extensive facial recognition capabilities are now asking the public for footage of activists.
“Hopefully, we can pick her image up. If we can, we can do facial recognition, hopefully, and you know then we’d [sic] able to shed some more light on that,” police commissioner Thomas Carter of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said in a virtual press conference, referring to a woman who allegedly smashed a police car window and punched an officer.
Because there are no federal or state laws that require transparency for government use of facial recognition technology, there’s no way to know how the technology is being used
Facial recognition is now a key investigative tool for police departments across the United States, with nearly every major city and many smaller towns now capable of searching for a person’s identity with nothing more than a picture of their face.
For those attending protests, there’s an immediate concern: How likely is it that images of will be run through facial recognition software?
Law enforcement officials widely maintain that facial recognition is just one of many tools used to solve crimes. But because there are no federal or state laws that require transparency for government use of facial recognition technology, there’s no way to know how the technology is being used or which law enforcement departments have access to it.
The facial recognition systems most commonly sold to local law enforcement compare a face to photos in an existing database held by the police, typically consisting of mugshots.