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Police app, robot cops and schools get facial biometrics, while NYC considers surveillance transparency


South Wales Police are planning to trial a smartphone app with biometric facial recognition from NEC with 50 officers to identify individuals on a watch list, according to the BBC.

While the biometric technology is provided by NEC, the BBC reports that the app’s user interface was developed in-house by the police force.

The use of cameras systems with live facial recognition by South Wales Police is being challenged in court, but the app is intended to perform checks of specific individuals against the database, a significantly less difficult implementation.

“This new app means that, with a single photo, officers can easily and quickly answer the question of ‘are you really the person we are looking for?’,” says Deputy Chief Constable Richard Lewis. “Officers will be able to access instant, actionable data, allowing to them to identify whether the person stopped is, or is not, the person they need to speak to, without having to return to a police station.”

Civil rights group Liberty, which is involved with the court case, called the force’s decision to test the technology while its use is before the courts “shameful.”

Facial recognition robocop

Police in Handan, China have introduced traffic enforcement robots with license plate and facial recognition capabilities, the Daily Mail reports.

Different models of the AI-powered robots perform patrol, information-providing, and accident processing tasks. Each is equipped with a camera and locally stored database of “suspected personnel,” according to the report, and those meant for reporting incidents have display screens. Police robots will warn residents against jaywalking, and take pictures of them if they do.

The initiative is supported by China’s federal government as part of its big data plan.

Robots have previously been deployed to carry out security checks at Shenzhen International Airport.

New York transparency bill

Now York City Council members and others believe a surveillance transparency bill introduced in 2017 but never enacted may soon be passed in response to a growing controversy over how law enforcement uses facial biometrics.

City and State NY reports that the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act would not necessarily prevent any of the NYPD’s current practices, or give City Council power over how the technology is used, but it would require the force to describe the rules, capabilities, processes and guidelines it uses for facial recognition and other surveillance technologies.

The Act is opposed by the NYPD, for whom a spokesperson said “it would create a roadmap for terrorists and criminals to more effectively carry out their crimes.” NYPD input was provided when the bill was drafted, but reportedly was not included.

City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, the lead sponsor of the bill, says she is waiting for the NYPD to submit its own version of the bill currently winding its way through the process.

Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union says new members have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, and that it is supported by the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus.

“I think the problem with a ban is it limits all uses of the technology, rather than maybe considering some particularly sensitive cases,” Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Vice President Daniel Castro told City and State. “I think people hear ‘facial recognition technology’ and they think of the worst case scenario instead of the best case scenario. I think transparency can help with some of that by being clear about what uses are under consideration and what uses are not.”

School database rules revised

Lockport School District has approved a proposed policy for using facial recognition after revisions that limit the matching database to images of unwanted individuals, the Niagara Gazette reports. The change means that rather than all suspended students being included in the database, only those who have been deemed a threat by law enforcement will be added.

The school board had intended to launch a trial of the technology in June, but paused at the request of state officials. Meetings between state and local officials followed, which led to the policy revisions, according to the Gazette. Other changes include making the district technology director responsible for encrypting biometric data and the creation of an appeals process with the board of education, as well as requirements for further policy changes.

The system’s implementation could still be headed off by legislation at the State level, which would require a report by education officials with the state government before reconsidering the matter.

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