NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Could Surveillance Lead To A "Virtual Line Up"?

July 12, 2001

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and the American Civil Liberties Union agree that "a troubling expansion in the way technology is being used in the surveillance of ordinary Americans has come to light" in recent days.

Among their concerns:

  • During this year's Superbowl, the city of Tampa, Fla., used a surveillance system with software that digitized the facial images of fans and matched them with digitized mug-shots of criminals.
  • Also, the city recently used the software to scan individuals in an entertainment district.
  • Virginia Beach, Va., announced this week that it will seek state funding to install similar facial-recognition cameras in its oceanfront areas.
  • And in Colorado, the Department of Motor Vehicles is moving ahead with a plan approved by the legislature to create a database of computerized three-dimensional facial maps of all those applying for driver's licenses.

Armey and the ACLU say there is an alarming potential for misuse of all of these systems. Used in conjunction with facial-recognition software, for example, the Colorado database could allow the public movements of every citizen in the state to be identified, tracked, recorded and stored.

Furthermore, the reliability of these systems is questionable. According to the Los Angeles Times, a recent study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that digital comparisons of posed photos of the same person taken 18 months apart triggered false rejection by computers 43 percent of the time.

Armey and the ACLU are asking all state and local governments to stop using these technologies. They want the General Accounting Office to study the extent to which the federal government is funding facial-recognition technologies and called for congressional hearings on law enforcement use of surveillance technology.

Source: "Proliferation of Surveillance Devices Threatens Privacy," Joint Statement, Rep. Dick Armey and the American Civil Liberties Union, July 11, 2001.


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