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Police Department Using Limited Facial Recognition Software

No database of general public, according to department spokesman

Published on Monday, February 3, 2020 | 6:33 am

Pasadena Police Chief John Perez will discuss automatic license plate readers, and facial recognition software currently being used by the department later this month.

According to Perez, all three issues will be up for “community discussion and education.”

For four months, the department has been using a form of facial recognition made by Vigilant Solutions that scans photos of mug shots across the state, according to a department spokesperson. The department also uses Los Angeles County Photo Manager, a county justice resource that just scans mug shots in county databases.

“Pasadena PD has access to and uses a very limited version of facial recognition based solely upon a database of booking photographs of individuals taken when they are booked on a criminal arrest,” said Pasadena Police Spokesperson William Grisafe.

According to Grisafe, the department “Neither has nor uses a database of photographs of it general citizens.”

The L.A. County system uses existing booking photos from Los Angeles County and some surrounding counties to compare facial features to images captured from outside sources, including business or residential security camera systems.
If there are significant similarities, the detective can use the possible matches as investigative tools to begin their suspect identification. The system’s probable match cannot be used as a positive suspect identification. Instead, it can only be used as a starting point.

The Vigilant system is very similar to the Los Angeles County Photo Manager system. However, it also compares the photos to national booking photos.

The county system has helped detectives in 30 cases, according to Grisafe. So far, the Vigilant system has produced no hits.

Critics have long worried about facial recognition software. Activists fear facial recognition software could even lead to mass surveillance of activists and critics.

In 2018, facial recognition software was used during a Taylor Swift concert at the Rose Bowl. Cameras were hidden in a display kiosk showing videos of Swift’s rehearsals, Mike Downing told Rolling Stone. Images of the faces of the concert-goers in the kiosk were sent to a facility in Nashville, where they were cross-referenced with a database containing images of Swift’s stalkers.

Concerts and other entertainment events at the Rose Bowl are private gatherings, and while the Pasadena Police Department was briefed on the facial-recognition security measure at the time, the Department was not involved in it, Pasadena police Lt. Jason Clawson said.

“Any facial recognition software that’s actually deployed during any concerts or any venues near Pasadena is proprietary to whatever security detail that’s protecting the performers,” Clawson told Pasadena Now. “PPD has no access to any of that data, has no access to any of the technology. Nothing’s cross-referenced to our databases, nor do we access any of their data. And from what I know, we made no arrests based upon the technology.”

In 2012 the San Diego Association of Governments allowed law enforcement to use Tactical Identification System software. The software focuses on unique textures and facial patterns, including ear shape, hair, skin color—using the distance between the eyes as a baseline.

The software compares that data to a database containing 1.8 million images collected by the San Diego County Sheriff’s office.

There were no public hearings or public hearings on the software.

San Diego reportedly stopped use of the software on Jan. 1 when
AB 1215 became law. AB 1215 restricts police agencies from having software on their body-worn cameras that provides facial recognition technology.

“The research I have done indicates that our current system, Axon, has the technology but PPD, or any California police agency is restricted by AB 1215 from using such software,” Grisafe said.

In Carlsbad, city officials falsely claimed that the city did not use facial recognition software when, in fact, that department had been part of a regional face recognition pilot program for a number of years. All told, 14 Carlsbad officers were using special smartphones that capture faces and match them against the county’s mug shot database. City officials could not produce policies or guidelines for the use of the devices, and had no record of how many times the devices were used. The only information they had was the user’s manual for the device.

Several agencies have banned law enforcement agencies from using their databases in facial recognition software, including the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

In New Jersey, the Attorney General learned from the New York Times that officers in the state were using the technology, and that Clearview was using his image to sell its services to other agencies.

Under the Clearview system law enforcement officers can upload a photo of an unidentified person to its database and see publicly-posted photos of that person along with links to where those photos were posted on the internet.

This could allow the police to learn that person’s identity along with significant and highly personal information.

Clearview claims to have amassed a dataset of over three billion face images by scraping millions of websites, including news sites and sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Venmo. Clearview’s technology doesn’t appear to be limited to static photos but can also scan for faces in videos on social media sites.

Last week, Twitter sent a letter to Clearview AI, demanding that it stop taking photos and any other data from the social media website “for any reason” and delete any data that it previously collected, a Twitter spokeswoman said. The cease-and-desist letter accused Clearview of violating Twitter’s policies.





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