On Tuesday, a privacy group sued the New York Police Department (NYPD), demanding the police release documents related to its use of facial-recognition technology due to fears the technology could lack accuracy and create false positives, furthering racial bias.
Facial-recognition databases, which are used by police to help identify likely criminal suspects, are believed to store more than 400 million facial pictures of Americans, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The technology works by running searches through large inventories of images like mug shots, and then algorithmically comparing them against images found on things like surveillance cameras from places in which crimes have been committed.
The Center for Privacy & Technology, which filed the suit in the New York state court, released a report in 2016 that showed half of American adults have images — such as mug shots, driver’s license photos, or both — stored in these databases.
The report, called the “Perpetual Line-up,” also found that the images are used by local, state, and federal authorities, as well as shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The concern lies with what appears to be secrecy surrounding the use of the technology and cites that it lacks proper insight.
The lawsuit by the privacy group is the latest attempt to urge U.S. law enforcement agencies like the NYPD to provide more information about how they use searchable facial-recognition databases in their criminal investigations.
In January, the NYPD produced just one document in response to a freedom of information (FOIA) request, although evidence by the privacy group out of Georgetown University Law Center showed it had used advance facial-recognition technology for more than five years.
In March, Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressed their concern during a U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing.
The May lawsuit hopes to gain more insight into the use of the technology. David Vladeck, the Center for Privacy & Technology’s faculty director, stated, “The department’s claim that it cannot find any records about its use of the technology is deeply troubling.”
Vladeck also stated that the lack of responsive documents, including contract and purchasing documents, audits, and training materials, illustrates the NYPD did not possess proper oversight to govern its use of facial-recognition software.
The NYPD has not yet commented on the suit.
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