For the last seven years, the police in the city of San Diego made use of facial recognition technology through a network of 1,300 mobile cameras. The information compiled was successful in developing a database of 65,500 face scans. As of December 31, 2019, though, the California legislature put a stop to the use of the technology. A three-year ban was enacted against the use of mobile facial recognition technology by law enforcement. The ban came at the frustration of the police, but privacy advocates saw it as a win.
Unfortunately, determining the effectiveness of the technology is not simple or easy. San Diego law enforcement agencies did not keep track of the results associated with the facial recognition initiative. According to the city’s police spokesperson, it is not known that there were arrests or prosecutions as a result of using the technology.
What is the Tactical Identification System (TACIDS)?
In 2012 the TACIDS was put into place without a public hearing or public notice. The software behind the system worked by focusing on unique identifiers via patterns and textures on the face to compare with a database of over 1.8 million mugshots. In less than two seconds the software can compare the traits to find matches with the images collected by the San Diego County Sheriff’s office.
FaceFirst supplied the software to law enforcement agencies. There were 30 agencies as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement who used TACIDS. Out of all the agencies that had access to the software, law enforcement in San Diego made the most use of it. The large police department used it frequently. The newly developed Neighborhood Policing Division which began in 2018 was easily behind the department’s high rate of use. This division was a response to the rising homeless population in the city. The technology was given to officers so that they could identify homeless individuals who often do not carry identification.
How Did the Ban on TACIDS Come About?
Privacy advocates had major concerns with the facial recognition technology, and increased pressure on lawmakers motivated them to put the ban in place. The American Civil Liberties Union tested the software and found that it had flaws. They found a 20% failure rate for matching individuals and the majority of those that were mistaken were with individuals of color. Community leaders argued that the technology violated people’s civil liberties. Lawmakers listening to these concerns agreed that there are problems with the way surveillance capabilities are utilized. Continue reading