Protests over systemic police brutality against Black individuals has shined a light on the many forms of technology law enforcement has in its arsenal. One of those – surveillance technology and facial recognition – is increasingly being used by Florida police agencies to collar protesters on criminal charges.
For those who may be unfamiliar, facial recognition technology uses a photo of someone to compare it to other photos in an existing database. In Pinellas County, for instance, the facial recognition system used by the sheriff’s office draws from a database of approximately 38 million photos – everything from driver’s licenses to ID cards to mugshots.
It’s a tool that has been gaining in popularity with police over the last 20 years, but it’s been highly controversial, raising concerns about privacy, mis-identification potential and the risk of racial profiling and surveillance.
Some states like New York and Massachusetts have been moving to impose a moratorium or outright ban police use of facial recognition technology, part of larger police reform efforts to address the very issues about which protesters are raising awareness. The City of Boston passed a ban on police use of facial recognition technology within city limits. In June, a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate proposed banning facial recognition and other biometric surveillance technology by federal law enforcement agencies. But that doesn’t address state- and local-level law enforcement uses uses. More recently, the U.S. Senate aims to significantly limit the use of facial recognition technology by private companies, mandating they first obtain each person’s consent. It would also ban companies from selling biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints or facial IDs. If passed, it would effectively end certain business models, such as Clearview AI – the company that provides the platform used by police agencies in South Florida.
As our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers can explain, that could be a back door way of taking the technology out of the hands of local police, even if local and state authorities take no action on it.
NBC Miami reported in July that companies like Amazon, Microsoft and IBM – all of which contracted with federal, state and local police agencies – have announced they will halt selling of the tech to police agencies, citing concerns over privacy as well as racial disparities for its use. GovTech.com reported some evidence shows some of the algorithms used by some of these devices may have issues accurately identifying people with darker skin tones. In fact, it was a mistaken identity case in Illinois reported earlier this year by The New York Times that spurred introduction of the Senate bill.
Police departments that have contracts with Clearview include the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Coral Springs, Miami and Miami-Dade Police Departments. Other local agencies, such as police departments in Fort Lauderdale, Pembroke Pines and Miramar, don’t have contracts, but they do currently have free trials.
Of particular interest to criminal defense lawyers is that some of these contracts expressly state that the technology firms make no guarantees about the accuracy of the search-identification software. That could lead to serious problems for people who are completely innocent but wrongfully identified. The assistant chief for the Miami Police told local reporters that while concerns about gender and racial bias are real, the department has safeguards in place to prevent police arresting the wrong person. These include requiring some form of additional evidence, such as DNA or a witness, to initiate an arrest. The company further states that the tech is not designed to be relied on as a single-source system of tech, nor is it to be presented as evidence in a court of law. Department policy, at least in Miami, expressly indicates that a facial recognition search on its own is not probably cause for arrest.
Clearview points to a 2019 study indicating that no incorrect matches were found via the facial recognition system across all demographic groups. However, critics such as the ACLU say these findings are questionable.
If you are arrested in Fort Lauderdale, whether facial recognition technology is used or not, it is imperative to consult with an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Wrongfully Accused by an Algorithm, June 23, 2020 (Updated Aug. 3, 2020), By Kashmir Hill, The New York Times