Dedicated priority network FirstNet can support data needs of advanced biometrics for U.S. agencies

Dedicated first responder and law enforcement network FirstNet recently pitched U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to subscribe to its network, which provides infrastructure that isolates prioritized traffic from the commercial network, and could potentially be used for data-intensive applications such as real-time facial recognition, The Intercept reports.

FirstNet is the product of a public-private partnership, and uses AT&Ts commercial broadband network, with 20 MHz of dedicated spectrum. It enables agencies to quickly interact with databases containing biographic and biometric data, and also includes its own app store, with apps for facial recognition, real-time video, and other technologies. It was developed after investigation into the 9/11 terrorist attacks concluded that better communication between different agencies could have prevented some deaths, particularly those of firefighter trapped in the collapsing north tower of the World Trade Center.

Legislation allocated some public broadband for the purpose in 2012, and the Department of Commerce signed an agreement with AT&T in March, 2017. The federal government provided the spectrum and $6.5 billion, while AT&T committed to spending $40 billion on the network over the next 25 years. A further $116.5 million has since been allocated by the Department of Commerce to help agencies implement and promote the network, according to The Intercept.

The network provides “priority” and “pre-emption” capabilities to ensure communication in the event of a disaster, and is being extended to some private partners, such as electrical utilities, to make sure they can continue to support first responders in emergency situations. The project is also supported by government research, such as the real-time video analytics work being carried out by NIST.

FirstNet has reached agreements with 52 U.S. states and territories, though not necessarily subscriptions, and announced in June that it has been joined by more than 1,000 public safety agencies.

Critics like Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee Chair Andrew Seaman contend that if FirstNet is going to replace the police scanner as a means of communication, that journalists should have access to it, as a means of communicating vital information to the public and an oversight mechanism. FirstNet was also blasted as a waste of money in The Atlantic in 2016.

The news of FirstNet’s progress and pitch to CBP come as Amazon is locked in an argument with the ACLU about the appropriateness of marketing facial recognition services to law enforcement.

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