Smile For the Cop With the Smartphone and the Facial Recognition Software

Cop phoneYou look familiar—says the cop
with the smartphone. And never mind that
FBI specifications allow for a faulty match up to 20 percent of the
; local, state, and federal law enforcement officers based
in California’s San Diego and Imperial counties have quietly taken
to the streets with federally funded tablets and smartphones to
match the faces of people they meet with databased photographs. If
the experiment proves successful, in government terms, you can
probably expect the blend of cops, mobile devices, and facial
recognition software to come to a sidewalk near you.

For the Center for Investigative Reporting, Ali Winston

On a residential street in San Diego County, Calif., Chula Vista
police had just arrested a young woman, still in her pajamas, for
possession of narcotics. Before taking her away, Officer Rob
Halverson paused in the front yard, held a Samsung Galaxy tablet up
to the woman’s face and snapped a photo.

Halverson fiddled with the tablet with his index finger a few
times, and – without needing to ask the woman’s name or check her
identification – her mug shot from a previous arrest, address,
criminal history and other personal information appeared on the

Halverson had run the woman’s photograph through the Tactical
Identification System, a new mobile facial recognition technology
now in the hands of San Diego-area law enforcement. In an instant,
the system matches images taken in the field with databases of
about 348,000 San Diego County arrestees. The system itself has
nearly 1.4 million booking photos because many people have multiple
mug shots on record.

The little-known program could become the largest expansion of
facial recognition technology by U.S. law enforcement. Amid an
international debate over collecting and sharing huge amounts of
data on the public, this pilot program is putting that metadata to
use in the field in real time.

Managed by the Automated Regional Justice Information System
(ARJIS), a joint project of 75 government agencies, and funded by
the National Institute of Justice, the
Tactical Identification System
combines traditional mugshots
with controversial (and not entirely reliable) facial recognition
software, and puts it in the hands of police officers in the field.
The system deployed in California appears to draw only from booking
photos at the moment, but many states have already
linked facial recognition technology with their driver’s license
, multi-purposing everybody’s least favorite photos
into de facto police lineup images. Police lineup images with

uncertain access control
and, as mentioned, a high potential
for false positives. It’s probably safe to assume that, if the
Tactical Identification System approach is replicated elsewhere,
police mobile devices will be linked with that wider range of photo

So, when do police officers in San Diego and Imperial counties
whip out their smartphones to identify passers-by? During arrests,
of course, but also during other encounters with the public.

One Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who provided a
testimonial said he used the device during a warrant sweep in
Oceanside. While on the sweep, the agent wrote, his “ ‘spidy
senses’ were tingling” about the immigration status of a neighbor
of the person he was pursuing.

He decided to run the man’s picture through the facial
recognition software. The agent discovered the man was in the
country illegally and had a 2003 DUI conviction in San Diego.

“I whipped out the Droid (smartphone) and snapped a quick photo
and submitted for search,” the immigration agent wrote in his
testimonial for the Automated Regional Justice Information System.
“The subject looked inquisitively at me not knowing the truth was
only 8 seconds away. I received a match of 99.96 percent. This
revealed several prior arrests and convictions and provided me an
FBI #. When I showed him his booking photo, his jaw dropped.”

You never know when your photo will be snapped. So remember to
comb your hair before going out in public.

from Hit & Run

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