Ten Questions to Ask Your Police Department About Face Recognition

Amy Goodman
North Dakota Officials Seek to Squash DAPL Dissent By Criminalizing Journalism
October 18, 2016
cover of The Perpetual Lineup report shows group of african americans with their faces being photographed as they are just standing on the sidewalk clearly doing nothing wrong
Report: Law Enforcement Face Recognition is Unregulated and In Many Instances Out Of Control. But Here’s What You Can Do About It.
October 18, 2016

These questions are reprinted from The Perpetual Lineup: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America

Press local and state police departments and the FBI to be transparent and adopt policies to protect privacy civil liberties, and civil rights.

Face recognition systems cost money. Taxpayers are paying the bill. They have a right to know how those systems are being used, and demand that they respect their privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights.

Community leaders should press state and local agencies, and the FBI, to be fully transparent about how they use face recognition; if those agencies refuse, advocates should use state and federal Freedom of Information laws to take them to court. Advocates should also press city councils, state legislatures, and law enforcement for laws and use manuals that protect individual liberties and civil rights.

The Face Recognition Scorecard summarizes face recognition systems in 25 different jurisdictions and links to the original documents from those agencies. Whether or not a jurisdiction is available, citizens should ask their elected officials or local law enforcement agency the following questions:

  1. Who is enrolled in the police face recognition database? Is it built from mug shots, driver’s license and ID photos, or other sources? If mug shots are used, do police eliminate photos from cases involving no-charge arrests or not guilty verdicts? If they use driver’s license and ID photos, are people notified of this at the DMV?
  2. Who can search the face recognition database? Can other local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies (like the FBI) search or request searches of the system?
  3. What kinds of face recognition searches are run? Do they use it to identify people they arrest or stop on patrol? Do they use it to identify criminal suspects from surveillance video footage? Do they have plans to use face recognition to identify people in real-time from live surveillance video?
  4. Does the agency have a face recognition use policy? If not, why not?
  5. What legal requirements must be met before officers run a face recognition search? Does an officer at least need a reasonable suspicion that someone is involved in a crime before he can run a search to identify that person? Or can officers run a search on anyone, so long as it is for a law enforcement purpose? Do searches of license and ID photos require a higher standard, like probable cause? Will the agency require warrants for real-time searches on live surveillance video?
  6. Is the agency’s face recognition use policy available to the public? Was it approved by a city council or other elected officials? Did privacy and civil liberties groups review it?
  7. How does the agency ensure that its face recognition system is accurate? Has the company submitted its algorithm to accuracy tests conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology? Does the purchase contract require certain accuracy thresholds and require ongoing accuracy tests in operational conditions? Are all candidate matches screened by specially trained human examiners whose decisions are peer reviewed?
  8. How does the agency ensure that its face recognition system is not biased on the basis of race, gender or age? Has the agency tested the system to make sure it is not biased against certain demographic groups? Has the agency asked its face recognition vendor about this possibility, and if so, what steps has the vendor taken to address this problem?
  9. How does the agency’s face recognition use policy protect free speech? Does the policy expressly prohibit using the technology to identify individuals based solely on their political or religious beliefs or their membership in a racial or ethnic minority, or is this in a separate, general document? Does the policy allow face recognition to be used near schools and hospitals?
  10. How does the agency stop and detect misuse and abuse? Does it log all searches and audit them? If not, why not?