California Intelligence Center's Facial Recognition Searches Are Turning Good Evidence Into Illegally-Obtained Evidence

from the whoops dept

The San Francisco Police Department has found a way — perhaps inadvertently — to bypass the city’s ban on facial recognition use. As Megan Cassidy reports for the San Francisco Chronicle, all the SFPD has to do is notify other law enforcement agencies about crimes it’s investigating.

San Francisco police Sgt. Michael Andraychak said a photo taken from a San Francisco surveillance camera was used in a crime alert bulletin that asked neighboring agencies for assistance locating the suspect.

One of the agencies that received the alert was the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, or NCRIC, a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement agency that conducts crime analyses and major investigations and coordinates counterterrorism and drug enforcement programs.

NCRIC, which uses facial recognition technology, ran the photo through its software, produced a match from its database and sent it to San Francisco police, Andraychak said.

Sgt. Andraychak pointed out the SFPD did not ask NCRIC to run this search. It simply sent out a bulletin and this was a proactive move by the Center. The Center’s use of facial recognition tech does not violate the statewide ban on the tech because the state legislation only forbids use of the tech in police body cameras. All of this is legal… at least up until someone wants to use the evidence in San Francisco.

Fortunately, the local prosecutor isn’t going to try to use inadvertently illegal evidence to secure a conviction.

[San Francisco District Attorney Chesa] Boudin said in order to successfully prosecute cases, his office needs to “rely on the integrity of the investigations and the evidence that we are presented.”

“San Francisco prohibits the use of facial recognition software, with very narrow exceptions,” he said. “We cannot rely on evidence gathered in violation of that law.”

This is the appropriate response. Rather than try to justify the evidence by noting the facial recognition search performed by the NCRIC complied with STATE law, the SF DA is going to eliminate this evidence from the case. This possibly means there’s no case left but that’s how things are supposed to go when evidence is gathered illegally.

Unfortunately for the SFPD (and officers in Oakland who are also subject to a facial recognition ban), this is what the NCRIC does on the regular, whether or not the agency posting the bulletin asks for a search to be run. If the NCRIC continues to do this, it’s going to jeopardize prosecutions in areas subject to bans. But it wouldn’t be that difficult to flag bulletins from cities with bans so helpful NCRIC analysts don’t provide the invaluable service of turning legally-obtained evidence into successful suppression motions. And it would be equally easy for law enforcement agencies to discard NCRIC search results they’re not supposed to have. This is a problem, but it’s one that can be solved fairly easily. But for now, it looks like prosecutors are taking the lead.

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Comments on “California Intelligence Center's Facial Recognition Searches Are Turning Good Evidence Into Illegally-Obtained Evidence”

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Richard M (profile) says:

While a good move by DA..

It is not like this was done out of the goodness of his heart. He may be a standup guy, I have no idea but any case pushed with this kind of evidence would be a waste of time.

Defense attorneys even public defenders with too large case loads would be all over this "technicality".

The fact the cops are finding new ways to get around laws is just one more reason why fewer and fewer people trust anything they say.

Ten years ago if I heard about someone saying a cop beat him down for no reason I leaned well into believing the cop. And this is from someone who has had a few of those run ins himself.

However today any time I hear a cop speak I assume he is lying. I actually believe cops less than politicians which is saying a lot because I believe politicians very close to zero.

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