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Florida legislators schooled in biometrics as appeal court rejects other matches as Brady material


An appellate court in Florida has upheld the conviction of a man for selling crack cocaine, ruling that the defendant does not have the right to see other matches returned by the facial recognition software that identified him, Security Infowatch reports.

Meanwhile, Orlando Weekly reports that Florida House of Representatives’ Criminal Justice Subcommittee members recently attended a formal presentation on facial recognition.

The presentation was delivered by four law enforcement officials, including Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Gualtieri oversees a database of 25 million facial images, mostly collected from the state’s driver’s license photo database. Orlando Weekly reports that FR-Net is the largest database of its kind in America. “We run the largest one in the country, we have about 25 million enrolled images, and we have hundreds of agencies that are participating in it,” Gualtieri said.

Gualtieri has previously said the technology simply automates a process that was previously used.

“What I really want more than anything is a conversation that looks at all ramifications,” subcommittee chair Rep. James Grant said in an interview with Orlando Weekly. “My personal belief is that the Fourth and Fifth amendment do not bend to innovation. Innovation needs to fit within the parameters of the Fourth and Fifth amendment.”

Gualtieri noted that his department does not use real-time facial recognition, suggesting that people are not comfortable with it and that it is not “the right thing to do.”

Real-time facial recognition from Amazon is being trialed by Orlando police.

“If I am in public and a police officer asks me for identification, I have the right to refuse. … Use of this technology strips me of that right,” Rep. Mike Grieco said. “We should not have to waive all rights as Floridians just because we decide to go for a walk.”

In the case before the appeals court, defendant Willie Allen Lynch has argued that the other potential matches identified by the technology are “Brady material,” or potentially exonerating evidence. The argument was rejected by the First District Court of Appeals, which ruled that Lynch could not show the other photos resembled him, or that they would affect the outcome of the trial. The court also pointed to the reluctance of Lynch’s former attorney to call the crime analyst who performed the search.

Lynch’s new attorney Victor Holder says he will consider grounds for further appeal.

“Florida law enforcement agencies currently use facial recognition technology with little to no public awareness, no uniform standards governing its use, and no public oversight by the Florida Legislature,” Holder said. “The Legislature should look into law enforcement’s use of facial recognition programs and the resulting privacy implications it has for all Floridians.”

“I was hoping that this case would shed some kind of light and I don’t think it does,” says Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology researcher Clare Garvie. “We’re in a holding pattern of sorts waiting for more courts to deal with this issue.”

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