Terrorism and Legal Implications of Face Recognition Surveillance

The United States Department of Defense, with its focus on perfecting the face recognition technology to spot criminals at the borders of the nation, had been funding scientific studies on face recognition technology for more than decade. Private companies were similarly convinced that this technology could dramatically help in combating crime within the borders of the United States. Because of their belief, the marketing of the technology became widespread during the mid-1990s (Rutherford).

Then came 9/11 – the day that changed the security concerns of the entire world in the matter of a few hours. There was increased interest in face recognition technology following the terrorist attacks on American soil. Although Americans had viewed the face recognition technology with skepticism before the attacks, they became confident that pervasive use of the new technology in security as well as public safety would protect them from similar attacks in future.

Indeed, the face recognition technology could play an important role in the prevention of tragedies. All the same, law enforcement agencies have discovered that in areas covered by the new technology, no terrorist has ever been identified. What is more, despite the redoubling of efforts to create dependable face recognition systems after 9/11, the new technology suffers from problems. Facial recognition technology faces a difficulty, for example, in the recognition of the effects of aging.

Digitally compared photos of individuals that had been taken eighteen months apart produced untrue rejections by the software application at least forty three percent of the time. Furthermore, it has been found that the technology is more successful when used by casinos to identify cheaters, in welfare offices, and by driver’s license bureaus, given the uniformity of lighting and the use of the same cameras in these places (Jarvis; O’Harrow).

Whether or not the face recognition technology could drastically help in the areas of security and public safety is yet to be discovered. Still, the application of the new technology in the Pinellas County should provide us with a clue as to how much the technology can do for public safety. Perhaps, if all law enforcement agencies around the country were to employ the face recognition technology, we would be able to confirm that the new technology may, indeed, work wonders for public safety.

Thus far, this is only an inference, seeing as common use of face recognition technology is not yet in vogue. It may also be inferred that extensive use of the new technology around the world could save nations from the acts of terrorists. Although face recognition technology is not as foolproof as public safety officials would like, it is an evolving technology incorporating new methods and systems of identifying the innocent as well as criminals.

In October 2001, the United States Senate subcommittee started to look into the potential uses of face recognition monitors in fighting terrorism (Rohde). In point of fact, the government and the public at large have already understood that face recognition technology may be very useful for security and public safety. In the wake of the attacks on American soil, Viisage was requested to participate in a program at the Logan Airport to evaluate the face recognition technology’s potential as a screening application for employees (“Q&A with Viisage CEO Bernard Bailey”).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology – playing a significant role in the enhancement of United States’ homeland security with projects that span a wide range of study areas and by helping the military, law enforcement, building and airport security besides other entities – has also developed a team of face recognition experts that work with federal agencies to improve computer applications with face recognition.

It is reported that error rates in face recognition technology worked on by the National Institute of Standards and Technology dropped by almost fifty percent between the years 2000 and 2002 (“Technologies for Public Safety and Security”). Certainly, this is good news for everybody that is concerned about security and public safety. Besides, it proves that it is possible to improve face recognition technology rather quickly in order to improve the law and order situation.

Although common use of face recognition technology is yet to be realized in the United States, the future of this technology in the areas of security and public safety appears rather promising. However, there is an issue of legality that federal statutes have not yet addressed with reference to face recognition surveillance. In order to understand the legality of face recognition technology, we have to bring into consideration the Fourth Amendment.

This would allow courts of law as well as legislatures to determine whether face recognition surveillance should be treated in the way that general video surveillance is treated with respect to its legal implications (Bennett). Before widespread use of face recognition technology is made possible, its legal implications must be addressed. The United States Supreme Court held in Katz v. United States that the Fourth Amendment would afford constitutional protection in those areas in which an individual reasonably expects privacy.

These areas include private as well as public spaces. What is more, in order to search such areas, public safety officials require warrants. Alternatively, such a search would have to “involve exigent circumstances (Bennett 161). ” What is more, for a private or public space to be recognized as one that is outside the bounds of search, both the individual occupying the space as well society must recognize privacy interest in the space in question.

Courts allow the use of video surveillance only in places where people do not have reasonable expectations of privacy. These places may include sidewalks as well as public streets, workplaces in addition to public schools (Bennett). Another related feature of the law concerning video surveillance is that of “activity falling within the plain view of an officer since such surveillance cameras have been deemed the equivalent of robotic police officers (Sher). ” Silent video surveillance has additionally been addressed and left unregulated.

Although the “reasonable expectation of privacy” question continues to apply, Benett writes that “[c]ourts have found repeatedly that warrantless video surveillance of public areas does not violate the Fourth Amendment, and it seems likely that courts will take the same approach toward public surveillance systems incorporating facial recognition software (164). ” This may be true despite the fact that facial recognition technology is marked by an unreasonable privacy invasion, and “all individuals in the camera’s path are subject to a police lineup (Kasindorf).

” Bennett’s claim that face recognition technology would not have a conflict with the Fourth Amendment is based on the fact that the new technology does not involve the kind of physical intrusion, such as the drawing of blood or the taking of urine samples, that the Fourth Amendment’s searches involve. Moreover, facial recognition technology is typically used in places where people do not have reasonable expectations of privacy.

Airports and police stations are, after all, places where privacy cannot be expected for any reason whatsoever. Hence, the Supreme Court has maintained that new technological devices that enhance the senses of law enforcement are entirely constitutional. The Supreme Court has further held that observations using technologies such as biometrics are made in areas where the police have a clear right to be present. Such observations are a part of plain view surveillance that may also be performed without the technology in question.

Finally, it has been maintained that no technology may be considered an intrusion where the lack of the technology poses a threat to the security of the nation (Bennett). Conclusion Richard Chace of the Security Industry Association stated upon seeing videotaped footage of a terrorist walking in the Logan Airport that if the security cameras had been equipped with the latest in face recognition technology, it would have been easy to prevent a hijacking (“The Today Show”).

However, Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that face recognition software might lead to racial profiling (“ACLU Probes”). Still, there is no evidence that racial profiling has occurred due to the new technology. Instead, there is widespread belief that face recognition technology would be of tremendous help in the security of the nation. Indeed, face recognition technology is expected to go a long way in helping the nation and the world at large.

The Fourth Amendment does not interfere with the use of this new technology. So therefore, improvements in the face recognition technology are awaited in order to put the new technology to better use than before. Thus far, extensive use of the new technology has been impeded by scientific errors, for example, the fact that face recognition technology may not easily detect the effects of aging. With new scientific research, however, such errors may be reduced and eventually done away with. After all, Pinellas County is already appreciative of face recognition technology.

Other law enforcement departments around the United States and around the world may similarly find that it is better to put the technology to good use despite scientific errors than to avoid the technology altogether. What is more, it must be remembered that there is no technology in the world that may be foolproof at all times. Even law enforcement officers are error-prone. Future studies detailing the successes and failures of the face recognition technology should help them gain confidence in the new technology to become less error-prone than before.

Works Cited

“ACLU Probes Police Use of Facial-Recognition Surveillance Cameras in Florida City. ” ACLU Freedom Network. 6 Jul 2001. 29 Nov 2008. <http://www. aclu. org/privacy/spying/15373prs20010706. html>. Bennett, K. A. “Can Facial Recognition Technology be Used to Fight the New War Against Terrorism? : Examining the Constitutionality of Facial Recognition Surveillance Systems. ” North Carolina Journal of Law & Technology (Fall 2001), Issue 151, Number 3, pp. 151-174.