NYC to deploy facial recognition technology, license plate readers

January 16, 2017 - 

New York City will soon deploy facial recognition software and equipment to track all drivers and passengers entering and leaving the city, as well as where cabs and ride-hailing services pick up and drop off customers, according to a report by CNBC.

“At each crossing, and at structurally sensitive points on bridges and tunnels, advanced cameras and sensors will be installed to read license plates and test emerging facial recognition software and equipment,” reads the New York State’s website. “These technologies will be applied across airports and transit hubs — including the Penn-Farley Complex — to ultimately develop one system-wide plan.”

The initiatives have been met with a considerable amount of backlash from privacy advocacy organizations.

“By adding drop-off time and location … the privacy risk posed by this dataset grows substantially, offering the TLC and anyone else who accesses this information a comprehensive 360-degree view into the movements and habits of individual New Yorkers,” privacy advocates wrote in a letter to the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission in December 2016.

Jennifer Lynch, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that combining facial recognition and license plates with other databases, such as driver’s licenses or property records, could give the state an unprecedented amount of power.

“We would hope that if they are expanding their use of face recognition — particularly to something as invasive as real-time face recognition on all drivers entering the city through certain points of entry — that they would very clearly outline how this information can be used, against whom it can be used and what’s done with the information,” said Lynch.

She believes that the faces captured will be sent to the New York City Police Department’s “command center,” where anti-terror police monitor video from 9,000 surveillance cameras.

These cameras provide surveillance of 3 million license plates a day from roadside license plate readers as part of a larger initiative to track global terror events.

Clare Garvie at Georgetown’s Center on Privacy & Technology says that real-time face recognition can be especially invasive because it allows authorities to track an individual’s location, an act of privacy infringement that courts have otherwise protected.

“We would hope that if they are expanding their use of face recognition — particularly to something as invasive as real-time face recognition on all drivers entering the city through certain points of entry — that they would very clearly outline how this information can be used, against whom it can be used and what’s done with the information,” Garvie said.

Since 2011, the NYPD has been using facial recognition technology to compare surveillance camera images against photos of unidentified suspects found on criminal databases, Instagram and Facebook.

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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.