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Facial Recognition Software Gains Wide Police Acceptance in San Diego

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Facial Recognition Software Tested Countywide by Law Enforcement

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More than two dozen San Diego county law enforcement agencies have started testing facial recognition technology used to help identify people in the field.

Currently, the software allows officers to compare any photo of your face to a database of local mug shots. But there are concerns about what may happen next.

Patrol cop Robert Halverson is one of seven officers in the Chula Vista Police Department who carries a tablet computer loaded with the facial recognition software, made by FaceFirst, LLC.

“This only taps into the county booking photos,” Officer Halverson said while demonstrating the software to CBS News 8.

“This is just an investigation tool. It’s only scanning against that one database to compare faces,” he said.

Twenty-five local agencies currently are testing about 180 of the devices, paid for with a Homeland Security grant under a $475,000 annual contract with the San Diego Association of Governments.

The devices and software allow officers to snap a photo of a person in the field and compare that image to mug shots already on file.

“I think a policeman doesn’t like it when someone gets away with not being held accountable, like say, they give you a bogus name and you weren’t able to catch it,” said Officer Halverson.

Right now, the software ties into the county’s criminal mug shot database of about 1.4 million images. But privacy advocates says it’s only a matter of time before facial recognition technology is taken to the next level.

“Once you have this technology you can use it for other things,” said Dave Maass, a technology investigator with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco.

“You can use it to take security camera footage and run an identity check on that. You can grab Facebook images and run an identity check on that,” said Maass.

“Let’s say the police are videotaping a crowd of protesters. Then can turn around and they can use this facial recognition software to start identifying the people in the crowd,” said Maass. “That’s problematic. It’s problematic for free speech. It’s problematic for freedom of association. It’s problematic for privacy.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation wants SANDAG to implement strict privacy and usage guidelines before facial recognition software goes mainstream with local police agencies.

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