Privacy SOS

Colorado police “would love to” use face recognition technology in body camera systems

Police in Colorado say they would be happy to use face recognition technology in their body camera system, but would want to make sure communities support the move before doing so.

The biometrics industry website reports:

The Colorado Information Sharing Consortium executive director David Shipley recently told Colorado Public Radio that the organization tested facial recognition technology two years ago, only to discover that it couldn’t be effectively used to help local police.

The organization manages COPLINK, a database used by Colorado law enforcement agencies to share crucial information regarding criminal activity with each other.

Shipley said that police investigators would be more than happy to use facial recognition technology if it proved to be effective enough, including possibly integrating the technology with body cameras.

“All of our members would love to have this technology,” Shipley said. “We would love to be able to identify that crook, that person who is about to harm somebody else and stop them before they do because of some past crime and we’re able to identify them.

“But it’s just not that easy. It’s something that we must be able to make sure we don’t damage individual reputations. We don’t take somebody into custody that has not be proven responsible for a criminal act.”

In the event that facial recognition technology becomes available in Colorado, police agencies should consult with communities and discuss its potential uses before it goes through with implementing the technology, said Shipley.

Colorado Springs Police Commander Pat Rigdon recently oversaw the purchase of 500 body cameras that his department hopes to implement by early 2016.

He said that the department is concerned about the overall effectiveness of facial recognition, but also believes there could be some limited uses for the technology.

Echoing Shipley’s remarks, Rigdon also believes that the department should first engage with the public before deciding to add facial recognition technology to body cameras in an effort to determine their capabilities.

Body cameras should never integrate automated analysis technologies like face recognition or iris scanning. If your police department is considering implementing body cameras, make sure your voice is heard on this and other crucial privacy matters. Police accountability is important, but it must come along with privacy protections to ensure body cameras aren't used to conduct mass surveillance and tracking. If we aren't careful about policy questions like face recognition, this tool meant to hold police accountable could turn into yet another technology that flips democracy on its head.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.