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As Facial Recognition Software Becomes a Routine Policing Tool In New York & U.S., Civil Rights Concerns Grow


Facial recognition software programs are becoming a routine policing tool in the United States. In fact, the market is expected to reach $375 million by 2025.

In a nutshell, the software allows police officers to input images of people’s faces–usually taken in the field or from surveillance–and then compare them to photos that already are in government database is from mugshots, driver’s licenses, and other sources. One of the benefits of the programs are that they involve very little overhead and are easy to operate, which allows it to be used relatively frequently to solve routine crimes and quickly identify individuals who then becomes suspects (unlike, for example, processing DNA evidence).

How They Work (Very Generally)

The programs usually involve the following process:

  • Police obtain an image of the suspect;
  • Investigator enters that image into the facial recognition software;
  • The program software produces a list of potential matches based on algorithms; and
  • The investigator looks through the potential matches to look for the right match

Growing Civil Rights Concerns

However, the systems are facing growing concerns that they are prone to some life-changing errors; specifically that they are more likely to incorrectly identify people with dark skin and women—more frequently than white men, regardless of accuracy—and allow the government to significantly expand the use of surveillance to obtain convictions without oversight, transparency, and accountability. In fact, there are very few laws or regulations governing what the databases can do, who’s included, the circumstances under which photos can be scanned, how accurate they are/need to be, how details concerning these methods should be shared with the public, etc. In addition, a number of police agencies are noticeably secretive about how they use these methods; not only when it comes to providing information in general to the public; but even when it comes to those directly involved in ensuring that wrongful convictions do not result from these methods, such as defense attorneys, advocates and, most importantly, those fighting their own convictions.

What is especially of concern is that these facial recognition methods are not technically presented as evidence in court, which means that not only do they not turn up in public documents, but they are not the subject of judicial rulings, which not only makes them difficult to track, but means that convictions can move forward without juries and judges knowing how these methods initially pinpointed suspects and whether they violate Fourth Amendment and other rights. In addition, the companies that build this technology such as Amazon, Axon, and Microsoft are currently working on developing even more advanced systems that will allow police to identify suspects from live video footage, i.e. without even eating a still image.

These methods of concern so many cities around the country that summer even considering completely banning them. Civil rights advocates and criminal defense attorneys are very concerned that police officers could become overly reliant on this technology and this could result in a number of additional wrongful convictions every year, as well as an explosion and arrest for petty crimes, especially for poor and minority communities.

If You Live in New York or New Jersey & Have Been Accused of a Crime, Contact Our Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys

While there are no real statistics available concerning how many police departments are using this technology, what is known is that most try to use it as often as possible. Just based on the one assessment that was conducted in 2016, at least one and four police agencies run these types of searches as part of coming up with suspects in pinpointing crimes; either through software that they purchase themselves; or software owned by another agency. Again, perhaps of most concern, there is absolutely no mention of it to use in arrest reports and court documents.

If you live In New Jersey and are a suspect in a crime, contact our experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at the office of Phillip J. Murphy today to ensure that your civil rights are not violated, resulting in a wrongful conviction.



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Phillip J. Murphy,
Attorney At Law
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Phillip J. Murphy, Attorney At Law is located in New City, New York and serves clients in and around New York, New Jersey & Connecticut. Contact our experienced criminal defense law firm.
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