Chicago Cops Love Them Some Facebook Sharing, According To Internal Facial Recognition Presentation

from the facebook-remains-the-ultimate-third-party-candidate dept

Somewhere between the calls to end encryption and calls to do literally anything about crime rate spikes at this time of year, at this time of day, in [insert part of the country], localized entirely within [add geofence] lies the reality of law enforcement. While many continue to loudly decry the advent of by-default encryption, the reality of the situation is people are generating more data and content than ever. And most of it is less than a warrant away.

While certain suspect individuals continue to proclaim encryption will result in an apocalypse of criminal activity, others are reaping the benefits of always-on internet interactivity. Clearview, for example, has compiled a database of 10 billion images by doing nothing more than scraping the web, grabbing everything that’s been made public by an extremely online world population.

You want facial images free of charge and no Fourth Amendment strings attached? You need look no further than the open web, which has all the faces you want and almost none of the attendant restrictions. “Going dark” is for chumps who don’t know how to leverage the public’s willingness to share almost anything with the rest of the internet.

The Chicago PD knows who’s keeping the internet bread buttered and which side they’re on. A report from Business Insider (written by Caroline Haskins) highlights an internal CPD presentation that makes it explicit cops have gained plenty from the rise of social media platforms, easily outweighing the subjective losses end-to-end encryption may have recently created.

Images posted on social media have become so valuable to police investigations that the Chicago Police Department thanked Facebook, “selfie culture,” and “high-definition cameras” on cellphones during a presentation on how to use facial-recognition technology.

“THANK YOU FACEBOOK!” read one slide from the document, which was obtained by Insider through a public-record request.

Thank you, Facebook, indeed. The presentation [PDF] namechecks the most popular social media platform in the United States — one that has deployed its own facial recognition to tag individuals in photos whether or not said individuals have specifically agreed to be identified by the social network. Hence the rise of the “I’m in this photo and I don’t like it” meme.

Facebook (now Meta) had no comment. The Chicago PD provided no comment. But little commentary is necessary. Whatever’s sent out into the open ether of the internet is there for the taking. Clearview made it explicit by scraping everything that wasn’t nailed down. Facebook’s terms of service and privacy policy make it far less explicit, but whatever can be accessed by non-cops roaming the platform can also be accessed by cops.

The presentation at least notes that facial recognition should be viewed as only one investigative tool to be used by investigators. Better, it points out that matching a face to social media detritus is only a small part of the equation. No officer should assume a single match means positive identification of a criminal suspect. Whether or not this part of the training carries over to actual investigations remains to be seen. If cops are assuming matches are positive IDs and acting accordingly, it’s only a matter of time before the Chicago PD gets sued for arresting or jailing the wrong person.

The document obtained by Business Insider shows the CPD is using multiple facial recognition vendors in their quest for the highly subjective “truth:” ranging from Amazon’s no-longer-for-law-enforcement Rekognition to NEC, Cognitec, and Dataworks Plus.

It’s difficult to even golf clap for the Chicago PD, given its long history of rights violations and internal corruption, but it would be disingenuous to acknowledge this presentation at least tries to steer investigators away from rights violations.

The document says CCTV footage and social media could lead to “suspect identification.” But it also notes prospective pitfalls of the technology, saying that facial recognition was a “narrow tool” that couldn’t be used to “‘confirm’ an identification by other means.”

Again, the words are only as good as their interpretation by officers utilizing this technology and the wealth of information made accessible by social media platforms. And there’s a shit ton of inputs. Millions of images are easily accessible through Facebook. Millions more have been harvested by the Chicago PD, which operates or has access to more than 30,000 surveillance cameras located in the city.

The Chicago PD’s relationship with emerging surveillance tech has been no better than its constantly deteriorating relationship with the people it serves. The PD has been an enthusiastic early adopter of unproven tech, blowing tax dollars on ShotSpotter (which is terrible at spotting shots) and Clearview’s facial recognition AI (which has been assailed by law enforcement agencies as mostly useless).

We want law enforcement agencies to be good stewards of the money and power they’re entrusted with. The Chicago PD has been neither for decades. While this presentation does a good job explaining the pitfalls of utilizing open source images in conjunction with facial recognition tech, the fact is Chicago cops are results-oriented. When that happens, the ends justify the means, even when the ends are ultimately tossed by trial court judges and federal civil rights lawsuits. Officers are on notice that facial recognition tech is highly-fallible. But, until we see otherwise, we can probably assume CPD officers are more interested in deploying the tech than ensuring search results are accurate.


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