Police Are Getting Around Legally Banned Facial Recognition

Facial Recognition

Police officers have been quietly finding ways to keep using facial recognition in U.S. cities that have banned the controversial technology, according to a recent report.

According to an investigation by The Washington Post, cops in Austin, Texas and San Francisco, California — two of the largest cities where police are banned from using the technology — have repeatedly asked officers in neighboring towns to run photos of criminal suspects through their facial recognition programs.

The Washington Post reports that it reviewed police documents in San Francisco and Austin through public records requests and sources who shared them on the condition of anonymity.

San Francisco banned facial recognition technology in 2019. However, the publication found that the San Francisco Police Department has asked outside agencies to conduct at least five facial recognition searches since. No matches were returned, though, according to a summary of those incidents submitted by the department to the county’s board of supervisors last year.

Meanwhile, the city of Austin banned facial recognition in 2020. Yet, The Washington Post reports that Austin police officers have received the results of at least 13 face searches from a neighboring police department and have appeared to get hits on some of them.

After an Austin-based cop received a selection of photos sent to him by an officer in Leander, Texas, who ran a facial recognition search, he reportedly wrote back: “That’s him! Thank you very much.”

The man displayed in the photos was John Curry Jr. who was later charged with aggravated assault for allegedly charging toward someone with a knife. Curry is currently in jail awaiting trial and his attorney declined to comment.

In response to The Washington Post’s investigation, a spokesperson for the Austin Police Department says that these uses of facial recognition were never authorized by department or city officials. The spokesperson says that the department would review the cases for potential violations of city rules.

Meanwhile, a San Francisco Police Department spokesman says that these facial recognition requests violated the city ordinance and were not authorized by the department. However, they declined to say whether any officers were disciplined because those would be personnel matters.

There have been numerous false arrests across the U.S. based on facial recognition technology.

Multiple cities have banned the use of facial recognition technology by police departments as have some states. However, there is no federal rule against its use. In fact, the FBI had tested widespread facial recognition software on American citizens for almost a decade.


Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.

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