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Raleigh, NC police making move to facial recognition technology

The Raleigh, North Carolina police department is trying out a facial recognition technology to aid its crime control efforts. The major application of the software during the test period will be comparing surveillance photos from crime scenes with booking photos from people who are currently or have previously been housed in the county jail. Detectives will have the most access to the system as they look to identify suspects and solve open cases. The local paper The News & Observer said the test program will kick off in November with a small group of detectives using the technology to supplement their work for the next 12 months. The Raleigh PD is one of a growing number of forces to adopt this technology, although it's the first one in the state to do so.

Involved system, simple measurements
The technology itself is complex, using mathematical functions to compare the geometry of faces from different photographs, but the metrics used to determine similarity are simple. Raleigh Police Department spokesperson Laura Hourigan told The News & Observer the software measures the facial attributes in captured images - the length and width of the nose, the size and setting of the eyes, the shape of cheeks - and compares them to the county jail's mug shot database. The News & Observer pointed out that the FBI is also testing out a similar facial recognition system, which went live in late September. Although the scope of the FBI's project is much larger, both systems are using the same mechanisms to identify suspects.

Questions remain
Trade magazine Emergency Management pointed out the biggest concerns related to the system aren't related to effectiveness, but admissibility in court and pushback from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). There hasn't been much precedent set in the way of facial recognition software as evidence, which means detectives would still need to have other types of evidence in place before charges are filed.

The ACLU hasn't come out as completely against the technology, but it does have reservations. The advocacy group has come out in support of strong policies and regulations that balance the effectiveness of facial recognition software with personal privacy rights. The ACLU is also advocating for more public discussion about such systems in light of the relatively low level of attention they've received otherwise.


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