Police are now using databases that were originally compiled by state officials to stop driver’s license fraud to solve an array of crimes from bank robbery to murder. These searchable facial-recognition databases contain about 120 million faces, the Washington Post reported.
These systems have been growing rapidly over the years and were honed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to help soldiers identify insurgents. This technology can now be used via laptop in a squad car. It uses biometrics, variations in skin texture, irises, vein patterns and palm prints to identify a person.
The databases were made available to law enforcement without the public’s knowledge. The news that facial recognition software is used routinely on American citizens comes amid rising concern over privacy after leaks that the National Security Agency has the ability to surveil just about anything a person does on the internet.
The major concern over these databases is that the faces of innocent people, who have no criminal record, are catalogued side by side with people who have a laundry list of criminal charges. As Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima wrote for the Washington Post, anyone with a driver’s license or state ID is now subjected to “perpetual digital lineups.”
Many of these databases have open access, allowing the information to be shared with the FBI and other federal authorities.
“Where is government going to go with that years from now?” said Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles. “Here your driver’s license essentially becomes a national ID card.”
There are 26 states with facial recognition systems that allow police to search or request for a search of the database. There are 11 other states where these databases exist, but they are not searchable by law enforcement.
Local police have access to more than just facial recognition software. On June 3, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the DNA swabbing of arrestees without a warrant. This practice is also currently used in 26 states.
Justin Antonin Scalia argued to no avail that the measure violates Fourth Amendment rights.
"Make no mistake about it: because of today's decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason," Scalia wrote. "This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA whenever you fly on an airplane."