Police camera footage quietly used in IBM video search feature development

Police camera footage quietly used in IBM video search feature development

IBM used footage quietly obtained from NYPD surveillance cameras to develop a function to allow police to search camera footage by hair color, facial hair, and skin tone, The Intercept report.

Data collection may have begun in 2012, according to the report, and was taken from fewer than 50 of the NYPD’s 512 public surveillance cameras.

The skin tone search feature was reportedly trialed in a pre-release version as early as summer of 2012, and an NYPD spokesperson said officers were instructed not to use it in assessments. The analytics program was not integrated into the larger system, and the partnership ended in 2016.

“Video, from time to time, was provided to IBM to ensure that the product they were developing would work in the crowded urban NYC environment and help us protect the City,” the NYPD told The Intercept in an email. “There is nothing in the NYPD’s agreement with IBM that prohibits sharing data with IBM for system development purposes. Further, all vendors who enter into contractual agreements with the NYPD have the absolute requirement to keep all data furnished by the NYPD confidential during the term of the agreement, after the completion of the agreement, and in the event that the agreement is terminated.”

IBM declined to comment. Privacy advocates argue that members of the public should have been made aware that their images could be used by a private company to develop surveillance technology, according to The Intercept.

The report comes amid an increasingly public controversy about the appropriate development and use of facial biometrics, which has included a call for government regulation by Microsoft President Bradford L. Smith.

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