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NYPD says it plans to use facial recognition technology

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. Credit: Howard Simmons

The NYPD on Friday said it plans to use emerging facial recognition technology in limited circumstances for “legitimate law enforcement purposes.”

In announcing the policy Friday, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea outlined what he called six limited circumstances where the digital programs would be used to help develop leads to solve crimes.

Among the circumstances were the use by trained investigators to identify a person who may have committed a crime, may be a missing person, or may be deceased. In addition, the technology would be used to “mitigate an imminent threat to health or public safety” such as a terrorist attack or plot, said Shea.

“When you look at policing and the evolution of technology proliferation of cameras, I think it is self-evident that as businesses and private citizens deploy the use of cameras more and more, it logically leads to the next question of how you’re going to use those images once you recover someone committing a crime,” Shea said in a prepared statement.

“A facial recognition match is merely a lead; it is not probable cause,” Shea continued, who added that the department Patrol Guide was being changed to immediately spell out the policy.

An NYPD official stressed that the technology would be used in limited circumstances. The official had no information if facial recognition had been used by the department in the past in any cases.

During a recent City Council budget hearing, Shea had mentioned facial recognition as one of the forensic tools the NYPD hoped to use. 

In the past, some civil libertarians have opposed the use of facial recognition for airport screening, arguing that the technology has not been perfected, leading to misidentifications. They also contend that it could lead to widespread spying on people in public places.

Jerome Greco, an official with The Legal Aid Society who monitors the use of digital technology, said The NYPD policy did nothing to address research which showed the bias of facial recognition in cases of minorities and the young.

According to Shea, only trained investigators would use the technology to compare images with lawfully obtained arrest photos or mug shots.

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