Illustration by Erik Carter

Carnival Cruises, Delta, and 70 Countries Use a Facial Recognition Company You’ve Never Heard Of

NEC has 1,000+ biometrics contracts with agencies around the world

Dave Gershgorn
OneZero
Published in
15 min readFeb 18, 2020

--

InIn July 2018, the mayor of Irving, Texas, signed a contract that would dramatically expand how the city’s police department could investigate crimes using facial recognition.

The police department agreed to port its mug shot database into the servers of NEC, the 121-year-old technology giant that built the department’s facial recognition program. With Irving’s 100,000 mug shots uploaded to an NEC service called WideNet, officers and detectives were now bought into a system that also included mug shots from nearby communities, like Grand Prairie and DeSoto, and could conduct searches across departments. According to emails obtained by OneZero through a public records request, the Irving Police Department now uses NEC’s facial recognition six to 10 times per week on average, though just 21% of those searches result in “strong leads.”

For the police department of Irving, a midsize city of 235,000 that sits between Dallas and Fort Worth, NEC was a natural partner. The company advertises itself as the vendor of one of the most accurate facial recognition systems in the world and readily touts its law enforcement bonafides. And as chance would have it, NEC America’s headquarters was located just 10 miles down the road from the Irving police station.

NEC and the Irving Police Department have enjoyed a close relationship. When an Irving police sergeant wanted talking points to persuade the department that they needed NEC’s WideNet facial recognition program, he turned to an NEC employee for help describing its accuracy, writing, “I don’t know what a good error rate is.” And when NEC researchers needed data to train a new, secretive algorithm that could detect concealed firearms like AR-15s in schools, the Irving Police Department offered up more than 700 firearms that the department had recently confiscated. (Irving Police was unable to comment about its relationship with NEC prior to the deadline for this article.)

For hundreds of government agencies around the world, NEC has become a gateway to facial recognition technology. In January, London police inked a…

--

--

Dave Gershgorn
OneZero

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.