A Florida Police Department Wants To Implement 'Real-Time' Facial Recognition. Here's Why That's Concerning
Photo Credit: Crime scene photo with crime scene tape crossing a road with Sheriff vehicles parked behind the tape

A Florida Police Department Wants To Implement 'Real-Time' Facial Recognition. Here's Why That's Concerning

Facial recognition is becoming more and more common with law enforcement. In May 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained documents that showed Amazon’s Rekognition was sold to law enforcement in Orlando and Oregon.

Now, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) in Florida is looking to use real-time facial recognition, as reported by Orlando Weekly. That essentially refers to a system where every person who passes by a camera running “real-time” software has their face scanned — no matter what.

Facial recognition in Florida isn’t new. Biometric Update reported that PCSO already runs the largest facial recognition database in the United States, known as FR-Net. It contains 25 million identified faces pulled from various sources like driver’s licenses, mugshots, and federal IDs.

However, the desire to begin implementing real-time facial recognition is a huge switch up from Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s previous stance. When questioned by Florida legislators about real-time facial recognition in January, Orlando Weekly reported that Gualtieri said:

“We don’t do that. That’s the issue. The random collecting of those images is what gives most people the pause, the concern, the angst, and the lack of comfort with it…I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

The use of facial recognition by law enforcement has already posed issues. Last month, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief to fight a Florida case setting a dangerous precedent for police use of the technology.

A Florida court had ruled that Willie Allen Lynch didn’t have the right to see photos of other suspects also identified by the facial recognition search that led to his arrest. Alarmingly, the Sheriff’s Office didn’t even mention using the software in its original report and said Lynch was identified using a manual search of its mugshot database.

“Prosecutorial misconduct and police adoption of face recognition technology are dangerous, and the ACLU has been pushing to halt both,” the ACLU wrote. “Until that happens, prosecutors must give defendants full access to information about the algorithm used against them in places where face recognition technology has already been deployed.”

The deployment of facial recognition by law enforcement has the potential to exacerbate pre-existing issues, like racial bias. That’s especially true because facial recognition is terrible at recognizing anyone who isn’t a white man.

Aware of this, cities like San Francisco are looking to ban government use of facial recognition technology. However, there’s no state legislation related to its use in Florida, despite the state hosting the nation’s largest facial recognition database.

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