After Years Of Claiming It Doesn't Use Facial Recognition Software, The LAPD Admits It Has Used It 30,000 Times Since 2009
from the we-regret-the-repeated-errors dept
The Los Angeles Police Department apparently loves using facial recognition tech. It doesn’t like talking about its love for this tech, though. It told the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology it had nothing to give the Center when it asked for its facial recognition tech documents.
The Los Angeles Police Department has repeatedly announced new face recognition initiatives—including a “smart car” equipped with face recognition and real-time face recognition cameras—yet the agency claimed to have “no records responsive” to our document request.
“We actually do not use facial recognition in the Department,” Rubenstein told the LA Times in 2019, adding an exception of “a few limited instances” where outside agencies used it during joint investigations.
Here’s what the LA Times has discovered, thanks to public records that the LAPD finally decided to stop withholding.
The Los Angeles Police Department has used facial recognition software nearly 30,000 times since 2009, with hundreds of officers running images of suspects from surveillance cameras and other sources against a massive database of mug shots taken by law enforcement.
The new figures, released to The Times, reveal for the first time how commonly facial recognition is used in the department, which for years has provided vague and contradictory information about how and whether it uses the technology.
There’s some technically true stuff in the LAPD’s obfuscation. The LAPD does not have its own software. This makes it easier to claim it does not use the tech “in the Department.” But the Department definitely uses the tech. The LAPD has direct access to the software owned by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, something it uses thousands of times every year.
Despite this disclosure, the LAPD refuses to admit it misled the public in the past about its reliance on the tech.
LAPD Assistant Chief Horace Frank said “it is no secret” that the LAPD uses facial recognition, that he personally testified to that fact before the Police Commission a couple years ago, and that the more recent denials — including two since last year, one to The Times — were just mistakes.
When a citizen misleads a cop, it’s obstruction. When cops mislead the public, it’s just an honest mistake. But the reality of the situation is this: more than 300 officers have access to the database which contains 9 million photos. And the software the Sheriff’s Department uses is run by Dataworks, which made news recently for being instrumental in two false arrests predicated on facial recognition searches run on its platform.
Now that the LAPD can’t continue pretending it doesn’t use facial recognition tech, it’s begun issuing statements correcting its earlier “mistakes.” The group of people receiving corrections include public records requesters who were previously issued flat denials about the LAPD’s use of the tech. Now that the PD’s reliance on facial recognition is out in the open, maybe Los Angeles legislators can finally get around to regulating government use of the unreliable tech.