By Ali Winston.
If you’re stopped by a sheriff’s deputy in Los Angeles County, get ready to have your photo taken. The sheriff’s department will equip deputies with mobile facial recognition technology to expand the largest biometric database outside of the FBI, according to procurement documents.
A $3.5 million contract with DataWorks Plus LLC that was unanimously approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors provides a seven-year extension to the sheriff’s existing lease for Cognitec Systems’ facial recognition software and hardware – including servers and hundreds of smartphones and tablets – that deputies will use to identify people whom they encounter in the field.
The documents also indicate that the technology will have the ability to compilewatch lists, which Los Angeles-area law enforcement officers have used to identify people who have open warrants or were documented as active gang members.
Last fall, Reveal uncovered the Los Angeles sheriff’s department initiative to build a massive database of biometric information – fingerprints, iris scans, palm prints and, potentially, voice recordings – taken from arrestees and other people who are stopped by deputies in public. Sheriff’s deputies have been collecting fingerprints with mobile devices for years. However, the new contract significantly increases the number of devices used by deputies to run images of people through the software to identify wanted individuals.
The new equipment in Los Angeles is part of a steady, quiet evolution occurring across the country over how law enforcement officers interact with the public. Biometric information obtained by law enforcement agencies will be shared with other government agencies and private companies. On the consumer side, biometric security and identifiers are being built into devices as varied as smartphones, car locks and gaming consoles. But civil liberties groups are questioning who will have access to such information, how it will be shared and used, and whether this new technology will result in false identifications driven by inaccurate software.