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Albuquerque Police Use Facial Recognition Tech Responsibly, Report Says

The department's facial recognition protocol requires probable cause for an arrest in a specific case for a detective or officer to request an analysis.

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(TNS) — If you have a New Mexico driver’s license, your face has been analyzed by the FBI.

Your face, along with your identifying information, might have even been a possible match in one of the FBI’s 240 facial recognition searches of New Mexico licenses this year alone, but you wouldn’t know it.

New Mexico is one of 16 states that allows the FBI to search its driver’s license database, according to a recent report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology.

While the report raised alarm about this practice nationwide, it handed out its highest praise for a law enforcement agency to the Albuquerque Police Department.

The report, The Perpetual Line-Up, ranked APD as the top department for restraint and noted it was among the “few agencies that have instituted meaningful protections to prevent the misuse of the technology.”

The technology allows investigators to match images from a photo or a surveillance video to databases of mug shots and driver’s licenses with accompanying identifying information.

Law enforcement advocates have credited the technology with helping solve crimes, while civil rights monitors have warned that the technology is a gateway for irreversible and unconstitutional government surveillance.

You're on Video

Facial recognition technology maps faces and compares those maps with other maps in a database.

1. At APD, facial recognition expert and RTCC bridge supervisor Don Lewis receives a photo from an officer or detective who has probable cause to submit a photo for analysis.

2. He tinkers with the photo or still video shot to get the best view of a face, then uploads it to an FBI computer program.

3. The program maps certain points on the face in relation to one another.

4. Then it compares that set of relations to other facial maps in a database.

5. If it finds similar maps, it provides a list to the investigator.

6. APD goes a step further than some other departments in having a human do a secondary review of the possible matches before investigators follow up.

The report surveyed 100 police departments across the nation, analyzing how each uses facial recognition technology and what controls each has in place to prevent abuse.

T.J. Wilham, director of APD’s Real Time Crime Center, said the department specifically created protocol to rein in the potential abuse of facial recognition technology at the center, which also provides location and background information to officers en route to certain 911 calls and crime data analysis.

“The RTCC documents every time it is involved in a call for service. There are strict audit trails in place to ensure our resources are used appropriately. Conducting surveillance is not a part of our mission,” Wilham said in an email following a tour of the facility, which is housed in APD’s headquarters Downtown.

American Civil Liberties Union leaders, however, say they are still concerned about privacy if a government agency can identify your face in a public place, especially since the technology, which is inefficient at identifying white faces and has been shown to be even less accurate when analyzing nonwhite faces.

Protocol Praised

APD’s facial recognition protocol requires probable cause for an arrest in a specific case for a detective or officer to request an analysis. Only then are they allowed to supply the RTCC with a photograph or video still shot.

Only three departments that responded to the Georgetown survey met this probable cause standard, according to the report.

APD also was the only department to both meet this standard and limit its use of the technology to what the report qualified as “moderate risk deployments,” or searches on limited databases excluding driver’s license databases.

This contrasts with other departments at which officers take cellphone pictures of people in car crashes or stopped for traffic tickets, then run their photos through facial recognition software.

Some departments have cellphone apps that upload directly to software. APD did not say if it has these apps but said it mostly uses surveillance camera footage for facial recognition.

And a handful of departments in the nation have, or are pursuing, technology that would allow them to scan live video feeds, such as at a sports event, parade or protest for people with warrants or other issues.

Cost and Benefit

Georgetown reported that facial recognition technology has a dismal success rate.

“Of the FBI’s 36,420 searches of state license photo and mug shot databases, only 210 (0.6 percent) yielded likely candidates for further investigations. Overall, 8,590 (4 percent) of the FBI’s 214,920 searches yielded likely matches,” according to the report.

Of the 50 cases for which the RTCC has completed a facial recognition analysis in the past three years, only 12 have resulted in a possible match.

And “nothing is admissible in court, it’s all a possible match,” Wilham said, noting the possible matches are just used to give detectives an investigative lead.

Because APD’s center staff doesn’t follow up with detectives to see if the technology helped the case or resulted in a conviction, the department can’t say how effective the technology has been.

Still, the RTCC unit cost taxpayers $1 million last year. It includes 14 employees, most of whom provide real-time information to officers on their way to a scene. The others work in a crime report analysis unit and a television studio that creates a video daily briefing for officers. Facial recognition is a small portion of the center’s function.

The state Department of Public Safety did not respond to Georgetown’s records request, but a State Police spokeswoman told the Journal that State Police don’t have any facial recognition technology capabilities.

Have an NM License? You’ve Been Scanned

Wilham said APD’s facial recognition searches do not access the state’s driver’s license database or jail mug shots, only NCIC and APD’s internal mug shot database of about 200,000 images of people arrested by APD.

But New Mexico does allow the FBI to search its driver’s license photo database for its facial recognition activities.

That means if you have a New Mexico driver’s license, your face has been in a “virtual lineup,” as the Georgetown report calls it.

In 2016, the FBI ran facial recognition searches on the New Mexico license database about 240 times, according to Ben Cloutier, spokesman for the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department, which is in charge of the Motor Vehicle Division.

“The MVD, when requested by the FBI, will run facial recognition matches through the MVD database to aid in investigations. However, the FBI does not have direct access to the MVD system,” Cloutier said in an email.

The Future

Some departments, but not APD, have the technical capacity to run real-time facial recognition comparisons on live-streaming video.

That takes expensive software and manpower that APD does not have, APD spokesman Fred Duran said.

But if it did, Wilham said, the department would consider using it. And he said he anticipates the department will acquire that capacity at some point in the future.

That would mean the department could scan faces at protests or large events using its portable video units, which are tall video towers currently placed in hot spots of drug use or crime and at protests or large events.

Wilham said that doesn’t happen now and the video units are only activated if there is a report of a crime in its vicinity.

“I want to be real clear we don’t monitor video,” he said. “We only access this network in the event that we have a call for service. We don’t sit there and watch people.”

You’re on Video

The Real Time Crime Center has access to hundreds of Albuquerque government cameras across the city, including those at traffic intersections and at the following private businesses that have partnered with APD to allow access to cameras in the case of a crime:

– Access Technologies Inc.
– Balloon Fiesta Park
– Blake’s Lotaburger
– Bob’s Burgers
– KiMo Theatre
– Kirtland Federal Credit Union
– Melloy Dodge
– Phil’s Pills
– Presbyterian administrative buildings and main hospital, but only on the exterior
– Sam’s Pharmacy
– Sandia Lightwave
– Southwest Convenience Stores/7-Eleven
– St Pius X High School
– Expo New Mexico
– Tanoan Community Association
– Towne Park Homeowners Association East Gate
APD's Facial Recognition Technology procedural order by Albuquerque Journal on Scribd

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