DRAD and Others Urge End to Previously Secret Facial Recognition Program Operating in the National Capitol Region (Maryland, DC, and Virginia)

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April 28, 2021

Today, Defending Rights & Dissent joined two dozen other organizations to urge an end to the funding for the National Capital Region Facial Recognition Investigative Leads System (“NCR-FRILS”) pilot project, halt the use of the system, and make public the documents related to the project. Using a facial recognition system to identify individuals, particularly protesters, is a new development in law enforcement in the D.C. Metropolitan Area. The public should be informed and provided a meaningful opportunity to weigh in on the use of new surveillance technologies and some technologies, like facial recognition, are antithetical to democracy and should not be used. The lack of transparency around the NCR-FRILS pilot project has only been exacerbated by the lack of response by law enforcement agencies for information on the project.

The NCR-FRILS system was only disclosed on November 2, 2020 after court documents revealed that the Maryland National Capitol Park Police used the system to identify a protester accused of assaulting a police officer at a Black Lives Matter rally on June 1. But the pilot project has been in use since 2017. It was approved by two MWCOG committees composed of “police chiefs and county and city managers” in meetings hidden from the public. According to the Washington Post the system has been used more than 12,000 times since 2019. Fourteen local and federal agencies have access to the system.

Law enforcement agencies around the country are aggressively adopting face recognition technology, often without oversight from local governments, or especially without the knowledge of residents. It is grossly invasive, in effect putting each of us in a pertpetual lineup everytime we step outdoors.

The Washington Post covered the story, Coalition of groups calls for end to facial recognition program used to identify protester at Lafayette Square.

Read the full letter here.