In a unanimous vote last month, the Raleigh City Council approved the police department’s use of facial recognition software. When the program launches its yearlong test period in November, Raleigh will join 26 or more local, state and federal law enforcement agencies using similar software to assist with criminal investigations. Nearly three-quarters of all states use facial recognition software with driver’s license registries.
According to the minutes of the Council’s Sept. 16 meeting, the members spent more time discussing the Walnut Creek Festival than they did the police department’s proposal. Critics, however, have not held back about the risks involved with these software programs.
Officials explain that the database will include mug shots of individuals processed through the Wake County jail over the last seven years as well as images of people from crime scenes. The Council minutes described the program as allowing “police personnel to compare images of unknown suspects at crime scenes to images of suspects from other crime scenes or compared to intake photos of suspects booked at the Wake County Jail.” During the test period, the participating detectives will not use federal databases or the state’s driver’s license database.
What worries critics like the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina is the term “unknown suspects.” The software will gather and store images of private citizens going about their business, individuals who have nothing to do with the crime being investigated. There is a credible risk, the ACLU says, that the police will invade the privacy of Raleigh residents.
That’s not the only problem for the ACLU. We’ll explain more in our next post.