Police use of facial recognition to identify Maryland mass shooting suspect ignites debate

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The suspect arrested at the scene of the mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland was identified by Anne Arundel County Police using facial recognition with the Maryland Coordination and Analysis System (MCAC), The Atlantic reports, drawing significant public attention to the use of biometric technology by law enforcement, and potentially igniting public debate.

Jarrod Ramos was arrested at the scene of the crime where he allegedly murdered five people, but refused to provide police with his name. Police Chief Timothy Altomare said the fingerprint identification process was taking too long so police matched a photograph of Ramos to his image in the Maryland Image Repository System (MIRS), a database of mug shots and driver’s license pictures.

Police were unsure at the time if Ramos had acted alone, which made his identification an urgent priority in the aftermath of the shooting.

The use of the technology has made headlines across the U.S., just weeks after the Wall Street Journal reported that police in Hagerstown, Maryland, had used facial recognition to identify a suspect with an image taken from Instagram. A 2016 report by the Georgetown University Center on Privacy & Technology identifies algorithms from NEC and Cognitec as those used by Maryland’s system, according to the INQUIRER.

Controversy has been swirling around use of facial recognition technology by different law enforcement agencies, with Amazon facing calls to stop marketing its Rekognition service to U.S. police, and Microsoft rushing out a denial that its technology is being used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the country’s southern border. Critics of law enforcement use of facial recognition suggest that current oversight is inadequate and the technology could create or exacerbate bias against minorities.

The debate could be fueled by the fact that the ACLU has previously accused Maryland police of using MIRS to monitor protestors following the death of Freddie Gray in 2016.

Two separate bills were introduced in the Maryland State legislature to provide oversight of law enforcement use of facial recognition technology, TechCrunch reports, though neither was passed.

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