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SLO police see benefit in facial recognition software banned by proposed CA bill

Posted at 6:53 PM, May 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-17 22:25:18-04

Facial recognition software is considered by law enforcement to be a potential crime-fighting tool but opponents call it an invasion of privacy that could send the wrong people to jail.

The City of San Francisco this week banned law enforcement from using the technology, which is what some in the California Assembly are now considering statewide.

“We really are recovering a lot of video with suspects on them and having anything that would help us identify who these people are would certainly help us solve crime,” said San Luis Obispo Police Dept. Lt. Brian Amoroso.

Videos of porch pirates caught on home surveillance cameras flood into SLOPD.

“We get those videos almost daily,” Amoroso said.

The suspects in those videos are often too focused on stealing packages to conceal their faces.

“Frequently, we don’t know who that suspect is and we often use social media in hopes that someone is able to recognize that person and identify them,” Amoroso said.

What if someone or something could identify every face?

Humans don’t have that ability, but police argue new facial recognition software does.

The American Civil Liberties Union tried out the facial recognition software created by Amazon.

“We ran faces of members of Congress through a database of criminals and the technology incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress with and falsely identified them as people arrested for a crime,” said ACLU L.A. Attorney Mohammad Tajsar.

Issues of errant identification and privacy are pushing some California Assembly members and the City of San Francisco to cut the cord on the technology before it’s ever installed.

“You create a recipe for disaster, I think, when you give (police) technology as invasive as facial recognition,” Tajsar said.

But supporters of the software see it differently.

“You and me forgo our privacy when we enter public spaces,” Assemblyman Steven Choi (R-Irvine) said at a recent hearing on the bill.

“Criminals are using technology to commit crimes and we need to have the tools available to law enforcement so we can properly combat and solve crimes and hold those accountable in order to protect our community,” Amoroso said.

A San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said they haven’t considered using the technology.