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Police use of facial recognition increasing in Minnesota and questioned in Seattle

France urged to reconsider security bill, startups launch privacy masks
Police use of facial recognition increasing in Minnesota and questioned in Seattle

Statistics published by a municipal government in Minnesota show police in the state are increasing their use of facial recognition, with more than 500 searches carried out in the first nine months of 2020, the Star Tribune reports.

A face biometrics system operated by Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office utilizing biometric technology from Cognitec has been used for nearly 1,000 searches since 2018, according to the report. The publication also says the documents show that the Minneapolis police department was using facial recognition in 2018, despite a denial issued that year.

Images collected from various sources are matched against a database of mug shots owned by the county, which consists of 1.4 million images.

In addition to local police, the technology was used by the state’s Department of Commerce during a insurance fraud investigation, by regional drug task forces, and by federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency (14 searches in the past two years), the FBI (6 searches), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (10 searches).

A representative of Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office says the system is used by a “small number of trained users” in the force’s Criminal Intelligence Division, and costs $22,500 a year. The representative also noted that the technology cannot be used for active surveillance.

ACLU calls for Seattle to ban local agency facial recognition use

A letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan urges her to ban the use of facial recognition by city agencies, in response to allegations that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) is using facial recognition services from Clearview AI, which may violate the recently-passed Seattle Surveillance Ordinance.

The ACLU notes in the announcement that SPD has claimed repeatedly not to use facial recognition technology, and that the police force may have violated rules requiring a public review process and city council approval before acquiring or using new surveillance technology when at least one officer apparently began using Clearview last year.

The organization is also asking city councilors who chair committees overseeing SPD and the city’s IT department to hold a hearing on the matter, and that the city’s CTO direct the force to stop using Clearview.

UN Special Rapporteurs pan France’s proposed security bill

A panel of five United Nations Special Rapporteurs on human rights are calling on France to revise its “controversial bill on global security,” saying it is incompatible with international human rights law and needs to be “comprehensively revised.”

The proposed law’s Article 24 restricts the publication of images of police officers, a response to a reaction by members of the public to police actions and use of face biometrics. The bill was passed by the National Assembly, which together with incidents involving the police led to protests by tens of thousands, according to the Rapporteurs.

The letter states that while it is encouraging that members of French Parliament have resolved to rewrite Article 24, “the provision is certainly not the only one that infringes on fundamental human rights.” Article 22, which permits the use of drone surveillance against demonstrators could also limit human rights, it argues.

“The introduction of such surveillance measures must take into account new technologies, including facial recognition and the massive and indiscriminate collection of personal data, which could deter people from exercising their human rights,” the Rapporteurs write.

Biometrics-blocking masks: fashion accessory of 2021?

BLANC masks, a new product with HEPA air filters that covers the entire face area, completely preventing facial recognition, have raised more than $240,000 in a Kickstarter campaign so far.

The masks come with interchangeable magnetic panels, and the develop is working on a voice modulation add-on. The MSRP is $149, but they are available on pre-order for $79.

Startup Lumen Couture is offering a mask with embedded LEDs as a remedy to surreptitious facial recognition. According to an announcement, the mask enables wearers to upload a face to replace their own.

The company previously developed a line of clothing it calls ‘Matrix’ which like the masks connects with the wearer’s smartphone, but the masks also come with a microphone and motion sensing capabilities, enabling it to change based on music or movement. The masks are available for a limited time for $90, on sale from a regular price of $150. They do not, however, protect against COVID-19.

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