US police use biometrics to identify alleged criminal among Lafayette Square protestors

US police use biometrics to identify alleged criminal among Lafayette Square protestors

A man alleged to have assaulted a police officer during protests earlier this year in Lafayette Square, near the U.S. capital buildings, has been charged after his identity was revealed to police with face biometrics, The Washington Post reports.

The existence of the National Capital Region Facial Recognition Investigative Leads System (NCRFRILS) was not publicly known, and though it was launched in 2017, and has been used to generate close to 2,600 investigative leads since, several public defenders and defence attorneys told the Post that it was the first time they were aware of its use being disclosed to a defendant. NCRFRILS was used for more than 12,000 searches since 2019 by the 14 local and federal agencies with access to it.

Kade Crockford of the American Civil Liberties Union said the lack of disclosure is typical of how authorities in the U.S. have treated the use of face biometrics.

The incident occurred amid an effort to force a group the Post characterizes as “largely peaceful protestors” to move in order to make way for a Presidential photo-op.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) launched a pilot project with the facial recognition technology in 2017, which ramped up during 2018, according to the report. A spokesperson for the council says the program was never publicly announced because it remains in a testing phase. A man now alleged to be Michael Joseph Peterson Jr. tackled a police officer and punched him in the face, and made contact with another officer before more officers intervened. The man escaped, however, and officers used a video shared on Twitter to identify Peterson with NCRFRILS.

Police matched the video image with Peterson’s ID, which they found in a backpack at the scene. He has been charged with two counts of assaulting an officer and one of obstruction.

The system uses a biometric algorithm from Rank One Computing, matching them against 1.4 million mugshot images from partner agencies, but not driver’s license database images.

A Rank One facial recognition algorithm was also used by police in Detroit when they arrested an individual in what appears to be a blatant case of police misconduct uncovered earlier this year.

Major Christian Quinn of the Fairfax County Police Department, who leads the NCRFRILS program, says the use of the system is strictly regulated, and that “far more people are misidentified by fellow community members” than facial recognition.

Other cases of facial recognition being used in America to identify alleged criminals at protests, and possible others, have been reported this year, including in New York and Miami.

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