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Government developing facial recognition surveillance software

Researchers are making advances to help the government scan crowds to identify faces


Natasha Lennard
August 21, 2013 8:24PM (UTC)

In an all-too-common move seeing counterterror technology developed and deployed for domestic law enforcement use, the government is investing heavily in the development of facial recognition surveillance technology.

As Charlie Savage reported in the New York Times:

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[The crowd scanning] research began as an effort to help the military detect potential suicide bombers and other terrorists overseas at “outdoor polling places in Afghanistan and Iraq,” among other sites, the documents show. But in 2010, the effort was transferred to Homeland Security to be developed for use instead by police.

Now, as Savage reports, the government is investing heavily in improving crowd scanning surveillance technology, which is at present "slow and unreliable."

Via the NYT:

Significant progress is already being made in automated face recognition using photographs taken under ideal conditions, like passport pictures and mugshots. The FBI is spending $1 billion to roll out a “Next Generation Identification” system that will provide a national mugshot database.

The information about the technology was obtained originally (via FOIA) by a privacy advocate, who expressed concerns about the mission creep of counter-terror instruments into quotidien civilian life:

Ginger McCall, a privacy advocate who obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act and provided them to the Times, said the time was now — while such technology is still maturing and not yet deployed — to build in rules for how it may be used.

“This technology is always billed as anti-terrorism, but then it drifts into other applications,” McCall said. “We need a real conversation about whether and how we want this technology to be used, and now is the time for that debate.”


Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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