Half of US Adults Are Part of Growing Police Database

According to a new report on the use of facial recognition technology
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 19, 2016 1:07 PM CDT
Police Put Millions of Innocent Americans Into 'Virtual Lineup'
Baltimore police used facial recognition technology to scan the faces of participants in anti-police protests. A new report found 117 million Americans--the majority of them innocent--are part of a growing "virtual lineup."   (Jerry Jackson/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

About half of US adults—more than 117 million people—are part of a "virtual, perpetual lineup" thanks to the increasing and unregulated use of facial recognition technology by the country's law enforcement agencies, according to a report released Tuesday by Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology. The center's executive director tells the Guardian the use of this surveillance technology "can change the basic freedom we have to go about our lives." The big difference between this new virtual lineup and traditional databases of fingerprints and DNA is that it is "overwhelmingly made up of" innocent people. Sixteen states let police use driver's license photos of residents for facial recognition purposes without a warrant, the New York Times reports. Others use passports, visa applications, and more.

And while the report calls the current use of facial recognition technology "highly problematic," it recognizes it as a useful tool—provided there's more oversight. According to the Intercept, 52 law enforcement agencies admitted using facial recognition technology in the report; 51 of them say they are doing so without legislative approval. The report worries the technology will be used to crackdown on freedom of speech—police have used it to scan faces at anti-police protests, and only one agency in the country says it can't be used to track people exercising their right to political or religious speech. Facial recognition technology also disproportionately affects people of color for multiple reasons, including that its algorithms are 10% less accurate for black faces than white ones. (Disney gets patent to take pictures of park guests' feet.)

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