Instant facial recognition now in place for local law enforcement

Technology sparks debate

SAN DIEGO - Results are in for a new, groundbreaking facial recognition system being tested in San Diego.

"The results of the test have been overwhelmingly positive," said Pamela Scanlon, executive director of Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS), a division of SANDAG that helped test the technology.

Seventy-five mobile devices were used by agencies like police and Border Patrol as part of the test.

Scanlon said over the past four months, people suspected of criminal activity -- many evasive about their identities -- were asked if their photo could be snapped.

Those photos were run through a database of more than a million county booking photos, and within 10 seconds an answer is provided.

Scanlon said more than 250 people have been positively identified with the system with more than 99 percent confidence, including one woman wanted for a felony.

Authorities say the instant match is key.

"Timeliness is really important, especially in the case of abductions and kidnaps," said Scanlon. "A lot of task forces like the gang task force, violent crimes task force and sex offender task force are using it."

"San Diegans don't want to be the nation's guinea pigs of surveillance. The privacy implications are truly jaw-dropping," said Kevin Keenan, executive director of local chapter of the ACLU.

Keenan called the tests disturbing, and he said the next crisis could expand the photos in the database or usage of the technology, leading to government abuse.
 
"Americans don't want to walk around being watched by their government like they're some character in a George Orwell novel," said Keenan. "That is dangerous and risky for a democracy."

Keenan said the lack of public input for the program is shocking.

Scanlon points out the devices are only used when criminal activity is suspected.

A federal grant of nearly $500,000 will expand the program to all law enforcement agencies in the region within a year.

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