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.

The LAPD flatly denied using the tech as recently as 2019.

"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.

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Filed Under: 4th amendment, facial recognition, lapd, surveillance

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2020 @ 3:53am

    Aren't the police the ones pushing "Nothing to hide, nothing to fear", so what do they fear about the public knowing they use facial recognition, and what else are they hiding because they fear the results of the public knowing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    anonymous, 7 Oct 2020 @ 6:09am


    Sounds like some LAPD and/or LA city attorney needs to be disbarred for making that false determination. if it turns out that it was only the LAPD chief (or mayor) who made that decision, then loss-of-pension or job or both is due.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 7 Oct 2020 @ 9:25am


    Someone certainly hasn't been paying attention, everyone knows the proper response to getting caught lying like that is to claim that the liars gave the 'least untruthful answer' or gaslight the other person by asserting that the new numbers are 'fake news' and thanks to a biased media.

    Come on now LAPD, lying's moved on from just claiming that the liar was 'mistaken', put some effort into your lies and get with the times.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    ECA (profile), 7 Oct 2020 @ 12:21pm

    NEW law/Old law

    And how many times have they stopped a person, thinking it was one that needed to be arrested. Taken to jail, until a judge or someone got a chance to check prints and other data to PROVE he wasnt who they thought he was.

    AND the person cant Sue, because law says the cops can hold them 'for how long'??

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Upstream (profile), 7 Oct 2020 @ 1:48pm

    Re: NEW law/Old law

    Thanks to Base Rate neglect aka Base Rate Fallacy it has probably happened many hundreds, possibly thousands, of times. Thanks to Parallel Construction aka Evidence Laundering, we will likely never know just how many times.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Jimmy Mac, 7 Oct 2020 @ 3:24pm

    join newsletter

    thanks for your service

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Jo, 7 Oct 2020 @ 7:31pm

    Re: It contradicts the U.S. government’s criticism against Chi

    If you examine further, you’ll find that one of the U.S. government’s criticism against China government’s authoritarian-like regime on its citizen is, in fact, their imposition of law enforcement using tight surveillance in public using the same type of technology as a means to their crime prevention; be it via assisting their law enforcers in tracking down criminal offenders via face recognition or the ability to deter crime via its effectiveness in nabbing offenders.

    The criticism is based upon the fact that surveillance in public on its citizens would deprive them on their basic human rights such as freedom and privacy which is essentially what “the land of the free” advocates.

    The truth of the matter is, the Chinese government knew in certainty that the overall benefits of technological advancements like these would far outweigh the justification of the cons sooner or later to not harness its potential. However, upon assessment, the reigning communist party knew that if they were to implement this change within the entire infrastructure of its country, there’s no point in trying to cover it up as the cat will be out of the bag at some point and if they gone that way, it’s not difficult to imagine what backlash it can get from its citizens; evidently so from what I would imagine will be the case for the LAPD albeit knowing from the way allegations concerning national interest that had been exposed accusing the U.S. government in recent years, i believe the U.S. citizens are also likely to either be gaslit into letting it slide over time or in thei perpetual self-denial and still convinced that mankind can still be ultimately free without a price to pay in peace.

    Rather than being wishy washy about it, I’d rather it be carried out like how the CCP did. After all, I know for a fact that as long as the laws implemented are fair and just, why should a citizen feel insecure about having to their face and actions captured? At the end of the day, this is likely to become a way of life in how a society is being run inevitably.

    While we all know very well that the data captured through surveillance of its citizens obviously won’t just be used for law enforcement purposes unless one is incredibly foolish and naive, this is after all, driven by the unstoppable force powered by the invisible hands of market economy, capitalism and globalization; something which we cannot prevent unless we want to stay relevant and survivable.

    All I can say after a well- travelled life and having a wide perspective of the world, the U.S. are really just in perpetual self-denial as if you’re still living in your glory days of post WWII. Grow up Americans. The entire world already has since and like even with such a dark history to bear in their identity, the Germans are one of the nicest people in today’s context.

    The Americans really ought to wake up. Stop buying into the lies your own government sell you everyday. Stop assuming the entire 6 billion people in the rest of the world sees the same way you do; like how you see your country.

    Majority of Americans don’t even actually live a full life having the opportunity to travel beyond their own country. With any luck, perhaps some would probably be able to cross the Mexican border or pop by Canada and possibly a handful would save enough to go for a grad trip and tour Europe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2020 @ 10:23pm


    OMG. You mean the police LIED?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2020 @ 5:55pm

    Fuck the police. It's been said before, you had a heads-up. Now why would a few mass shooters, horrible as they are, be an excuse to disarm the population and make them EVEN MORE IN THRALL TO these corrupt, world-wide sociopaths?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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