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Police might be violating the Constitution when they face-scan crowds — really

Police might be violating the Constitution when they face-scan crowds — really

It is possible to dismiss attorney Clare Garvie as an alarmist when she says use of facial recognition by law enforcement is a threat to U.S. democracy. Until she starts ticking through the relevant portions of the Constitution.

Garvie is senior associate at Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology. She says that it is hard to square the indiscriminate police use of facial recognition with the public’s right to be left alone by police until there is probable cause.

No one who venerates any part of the founding document — especially anyone sworn to uphold it — can ignore the fact that that particular biometric application might be an inherent infringement on core American rights and values.

Knowing that the government is using cameras and biometric software to identify everyone in a public area can only put people in public areas on the defensive when, presumably, they are exercising their right to free speech and lawful assembly, says Garvie.

The government’s questions are implicit: You were there. Why? What were you doing there? Who else did you know there?

If the use of surveillance is not checked, according to Garvie, people who are recorded could be forced to prove they are innocent of whatever a government fears.

“Our constitutional rights and liberties are not contingent on us behaving perfectly all the time,” she said in a lengthy Q&A for culture and art magazine Document Journal.

Government monitors have always told the surveilled that they have nothing to fear if they have nothing to hide. In using facial recognition systems on people in public and with no specific concern involving individuals, U.S. politicians and appointed officials seem to be saying, “We will watch you because you could break the law.”

This runs directly counter to the Constitution, Garvie said. The ruled are supposed to monitor the rulers because the government might break the law.

The Constitution, in fact, assumes that warrantless and indiscriminate surveillance — the case here being police use facial recognition technology on people who are presumed innocent until proven guilty — is a corrupt act.

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