LA county sheriff’s department invests in new facial recognition technology

July 7, 2015 - 

A new procurement document reveals that the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department will outfit deputy officers with mobile facial recognition technology to identify people in the field, according to a report by Reveal News.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the $3.5 million contract with DataWorks Plus LLC, which provides a seven-year extension to the sheriff’s current lease for Cognitec Systems’ facial recognition equipment.

The software and hardware, which includes servers and hundreds of smartphones and tablets, can be used to compile watch lists, which Los Angeles-area law enforcement officers have used to identify people who have open warrants or have been documented as active gang members.

Last fall, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reportedly rolled out a high-tech biometric identification system containing various biometric data, including fingerprints, iris scans, palm prints and, potentially, voice recordings.

This new contract significantly boosts the number of devices used by deputies to cross-check images of people in a biometric database in an effort to identify wanted criminals.

The new equipment is part of an ongoing trend across the U.S. in providing law enforcement officers with the technology to collect and share biometric data with other government agencies and private companies.

Many civil liberties organizations are concerned with which parties will have access to the data, how the information will be shared and used, and whether the new technology will lead to false identifications as a result of inaccurate software.

Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier, believes that mobile facial recognition gives police the power to stop individuals to check their identification and document their biometric data for future use.

“It pushes the line of what’s legal, whether it’s permissible to go up to someone and say, ‘I want to take your picture,’” said Lynch. “That’s a different issue, a different standard of suspicion than a mug shot photo collected on booking, where there’s presumably probable cause for the arrest.”

The L.A. County’s biometric database will store information on up to 15 million people. In addition, there are approximately 6 million photos currently stored on the sheriff’s department’s mug shot database.

The L.A. County sheriff’s department is also currently developing its own database as part of a national FBI initiative to upgrade databases of criminal data from fingerprints to biometric identifiers.

The new facial recognition software is intended for the Los Angeles County Regional Identification System unit, which maintains the county’s biometric database.

The software is used in conjunction with Los Angeles County’s mug shot database, as well as the CAL-Photo portal that enables California law enforcement agencies to access 32 million driver’s license photos, according to documents.

In addition to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is also using DataWorks’ facial recognition software.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.