About 40 years ago, American Express launched an ad campaign for its members-only credit card. The television commercials featured celebrities like author Stephen King, household names with little face recognition, looking into the camera and asking, “Do you know me?” King’s ad, of course, came out around this time of year, in anticipation of Halloween.
The campaign came to mind in a discussion about facial recognition software. Starting in November, the intake photos of everyone booked at the Wake County jail will be added to the city’s facial recognition software program. It does not matter if the charges are dropped or if the suspect is ultimately found innocent. That mug shot will be part of every investigation going forward.
Likewise, the images of anyone at or near a crime scene will be included in the database. Even if they have no idea that a crime occurred, those people will also be “unknown suspects” to investigators.
The city’s approval of the police department’s use of facial recognition software caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. As we said in our last post, the ACLU has raised questions about this type of software and every citizen’s right to privacy.
The ACLU is also troubled that there was so little discussion at the Raleigh City Council meeting and that there has been little if any public discourse about the plan. The police department could only benefit from the give and take as it crafts rules and regulations about access to and use of information from the database.
A department spokesperson maintains that any image matches will only provide a “stepping stone” for crimes investigated during the test period. Detectives will still rely on standard investigative tools and skills, if only because it is not yet clear that facial recognition software matches can be used in court.
Some of those issues may shake out at the federal level, now that the FBI is using the Next Generation Identification program. Officials expect that system to have 52 million images by the end of next year, with 8 percent of them gathered from noncriminal sources. Photos collected as part of employers’ criminal background checks will be included, for example.