Why You’re in a Police Lineup, Right Now | NYT Opinion
Articles Blog

Why You’re in a Police Lineup, Right Now | NYT Opinion

October 16, 2019

We’re all getting comfortable
with face-recognition– unlocking our phones,
skipping airport lines and even unlocking
front doors. But the convenience
is blinding us to how risky this
technology actually is and how it is being used
without us realizing. I’m Clare Garvie. My job is to research the
use of face-recognition technology by law
enforcement and then make recommendations around
the use of the technology. Right now, most Americans are
in a perpetual police lineup, because they got a
driver’s license. After that DMV agent
snaps your picture, your face is turned into a
face print, a unique series of numbers that a face-recognition system can read and compare to other faces. Now, any police officer
can run searches against your face
for any reason. Who robbed that corner store? Who was jaywalking at 3 a.m.? Who was at this protest? The digital
equivalent of police walking through a
crowd and yanking each of our I.D.s
out of our pockets, you could be picked
out, investigated, possibly arrested,
and sent to jail, because you got a
driver’s license in one of these 32 states. That’s a violation
of your privacy and your Fourth
Amendment protection against unreasonable search. And that’s just the
tip of the iceberg. “Nearly half of
American adults are in facial-
recognition databases.” “It does make our
jobs a lot easier. And it also kind of finds
that needle in a haystack.” “Photos are called from
social media images, driver’s licenses and government ID.” With face recognition,
America is closer to a Chinese
surveillance state than most of us realize. Maybe you’re
thinking, “I‘m not afraid of face recognition. I haven‘t done anything wrong,
so I’ve got nothing to hide.” But wouldn‘t you object
to police secretly searching your apartment
every once in a while, even if you‘ve got
nothing to hide? Let me tell you
the three aspects of face-recognition technology
that worry me the most. First, the way law
enforcement uses face recognition violates
our right to due process. In New York, police were
looking for a suspect who‘d stolen socks from Target. They ran a face-
recognition search against the
surveillance footage and turned up
over 200 matches. Authorities never
told the suspect, who was arrested and charged,
that there were over 200 other possible matches or
that a face-recognition search was run at all. That information is
crucial to mount a defense and give the defendant
a fair trial. Ultimately, this
case was dropped. We pride ourselves in this
country for due process. But for thousands of
people across the country, face-recognition was used
to help convict them. And they never knew. Second, pictures
aren‘t perfect. They‘re a tad grainy. Maybe the subject is
squinting or they‘re wearing a hat or a scarf. In such cases, the algorithm
has trouble finding anyone and turns up zero matches. To circumvent that,
N.Y.P.D. went as far as playing
celebrity look-alike in putting Woody
Harrelson‘s photo, when one detective thought
the surveillance camera picture of the thief
resembled the actor. This may sometimes work,
but the bottom line is if you search for the
suspect against explicitly the wrong photo,
then you‘re bound to get the wrong results out. And those inaccurate
matches will lead to wrongful convictions. Third, it exhibits bias. Very simply put, some
of these algorithms think all black people look
more alike than white people. In San Diego, law
enforcement agencies found that they were using
face-recognition between 1½ and 2½ times more on communities of color than their proportion
of the population. If we don‘t implement
legal restrictions on face-recognition,
the future looks like a Chinese-style
surveillance state, one that violates
our right to privacy, our right to
anonymity in public and our right to free speech. Congress must first implement
a national moratorium on the use of the technology. Congress can then work to
develop legal restrictions, limiting the use and scope of
face-recognition technology. Every American‘s privacy,
First Amendment rights, freedom from unreasonable
search and due process are at stake.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. We've been slowly eroding privacy since internet companies asked us to exchange our private information for "free" services. "I've got nothing to hide," is the biggest self-lie you can tell. Even if you have done nothing illegal, you have something to hide. You have done something to violate your religion, family obligations, or even rules of being polite. Everyone has a secret.

  2. Wtf the sound alone scares the crap out of me..M here alone trying to sleep…lights off in my room..n feel like m being haunted after hearing the music alone 😖

  3. For all the negative propaganda about China, America has de facto the same exact surveillance state, maybe just fewer egregious human rights violations. All the infrastructure is pretty much in place because law enforcement's opinion always wins, and the legal right to privacy has not been meaningfully updated for the digital and face recognition age.

  4. Excellent journalism. When I was a police explorer in the 1970's, I walked into a detectives' office and saw a massive collection of high school and jr. high school yearbooks (multiple copies) going back for many years. It wasn't haphazard or willy-nilly. Yearbook publishers were automatically mailing them out to police departments.

    Years later I realized that the police had the names and “mug shots” and general locations of tens of thousands of innocent children who had never committed any crime … perhaps tens of millions of children if that tactic is employed around the world.

    There are too many right-wing extremists, war hawks, psychopaths, and sociopaths in government who tend to hire other right-wing extremists, war hawks, psychopaths, and sociopaths. If it is not expressly prohibited, they can and will do it.

  5. I understand the privacy violations myself I am not happy they government uses facial recognition, just like when police use automatic plate readers it all violates the 4th amendment. But just as it is legal for anyone to be in public and video or photograph anything in public view, then the government has that same right. But there should be some type of waiver or consent form when any picture is taken for any type of government identification. I feel law enforcement criminal investigation photos are fair game. The next concern would be how long these photos are allowed to be stored, as in automatic license plate readers, law enforcement is only allowed to keep plate data captured for a certain amount of time. Do departments actually destroy that data, I doubt it. But if the government is going to use facial recognition their has to be a limitation and scope clearly identified, and it should not be used for criminal investigations until such time it can identify people with at least a 98% or more probability. We are still years off from the technology being that accurate. I am fine with it being used to locate a missing person, or a suspect of a crime, but not to be used for an actual investigation or legal process.

  6. 1:49 "Wouldn't you object to the police secretly searching your apartment every once in a while, even if you've got nothing to hide?" HOW on god's green earth is that the same at all you scare-mongering lunatic.


  7. Getting Congress to do anything like working together is nigh unto impossible. A couple of times they've actually pulled that off were when they enacted the Patriot Act or deciding to re-invade Iraq.

  8. In Hong Kong the protesters have to cover even their ears because the AI is so good they can be identified by the shape of their ears.

  9. The problem now is what we the people are going to do about it or can we even do anything to stop it.. It really seems like theirs nothing that can be done to stop many things in this world.. Just waiting for the purge to begin soon enough…

  10. well saying that facial recognition was used 1.5 to 2.5 times more on black communities than their proportion of the population is an extremely biased thing to say. That is the result of countless factors, such as crime rate, black people being harder to identify in security footage, police bias towards black communities and police being predominantly white and recognising white faces easier than black faces.

  11. Face recognition sy kesdt I get a trial. Getting pulled over I hurt killed by a racist cop scared because I tan better then them.

  12. Don’t forget that the police also now have technology that reads and tracks your vehicle’s location based off the plate any time a cop car is in front or behind you.

  13. Bernie Sanders has a plan to ban facial recognition for police. You wonder what we can do? Organize behind that man. Don’t care what preconceived notions you have about the man. He’s your ally.

  14. 1:02 getting arrested ‘BECAUSE YOU HAVE A DRIVERS LICENSE IN ONE OF THOSE STATES??!!’ I thought you were getting arrested because you broke the law.

  15. you could make the opposite case for a terrorist planning an attack, I think if they use it on the most serious cases with a warrant that might be ok with proper transparency

  16. Our first heads-up on this creeping invasion, was when London started putting in THOUSANDS of cameras to spy on it's citizens back in the 1990's. But almost nobody paid attention.
    And when 9-11 happened, Americans were so freaked out that everyone just handed over their privacy to the government. We all said,
    "Protect us, no matter what!"
    Next, all the tech companies that make the surveillance cameras, networking, and storage devices saw a HUGE opportunity.(I know, since I was working for one at the time….)

    The sales forces for these companies got in the doors of any and every single government office, competing for massive-dollar contracts.
    There was almost zero thought to the concept of invasion of privacy. At first, the cameras went up everywhere. We all thought, "oh well, they just have these up to help prevent crime, and identify criminals in case of crime."

    I think nobody considered that later on, the technology would be used for much more nefarious things, such as facial recognition for every single American who went into every public place. The whole thing is sickening.

  17. why is everyone afraid of this??? if you live a life obeying all laws and behaving correctly, why would we need to be afraid of face recognition?

  18. This is ridiculous. This facial recognition software saves countless lives every year by catching criminals that wouldn't normally be caught. I don't have anything to hide. And using my picture in a database cannot be comapared to police searching my apartment every now and then. It is a utterly ridiculous comparison. China's surveillance watches its citizens 24/7 and condemns people for social media posts stating their opinions. This facial recognition is used to capture already known criminals from surveillance videos depicting them in the middle of an actually harmful act, not just posting on social media. This doesn't bring us any closer to what China is doing. Such alarmist propaganda.

  19. People are willing to give up their rights which are protected by the constitutions for the sake of national security and conveniences? Not a fair trade off. We are time travelling back to 1984.

  20. but its system would make decrease any risk of crime like terrorism, i welcome face recognition system.
    safety is the most important in our lives.

  21. These sound like arguments to improve facial recognition than anything else.

    Finding a culprit before he carries out another crime is more important that you meaningless "privacy".
    If you are afraid of computer looking at your "data" than you should perhaps also be shy of being naked while bathing, cuz the ant is probably watching you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *