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Border-Eye Checks

Ramon Rangel, 29, stands at a machine that captured images of his iris and facial features to verify his documents while leaving San Diego on his way to Mexico earlier in 2016. The US government is one of the many agencies, including LPD and the Nebraska State Patrol, using facial recognition technology. 

Two Nebraska law enforcement agencies should suspend the use of facial recognition technology in their investigations until lawmakers and the public can weigh in on them, the ACLU of Nebraska says.

The Lincoln Police Department and Nebraska State Patrol were among a host of agencies nationwide singled out in a Georgetown University report for their use of the technology that civil liberties advocates say can violate privacy rights.

The two agencies don't have their own facial recognition technology. They access the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles' system, which uses it to check against people getting fraudulent IDs in multiple names.

According to Georgetown's "The Perpetual Lineup," the state's DMV system searches 8 million driver's license and ID photos.

ACLU of Nebraska officials expressed concern that LPD and the patrol aren't meeting best practices and that more public vetting of the technology's use is necessary to prevent against misuse and abuse.

"We still don’t like the use of this technology because drivers don’t know their picture is going to be used,” Legal Director Amy Miller said.

"We don’t allow the government to search us or keep us under surveillance willy-nilly."

Officials at the patrol are reviewing the report. The agreement they have with the DMV restricts the technology's use, allowing the patrol to access the database only for identity theft investigations.

Lincoln police can access the database for those cases and for "investigation of criminal activity" generally, according to the report.

Among Miller's concerns is the low legal bar for Lincoln police.

In Lincoln, investigators don't need to have reasonable suspicion, the standard an officer needs to briefly detain someone or run a search, according to the Georgetown report. Searches may be run for criminal cases being investigated and/or prosecuted, according to the agreement adopted by the Lincoln City Council in 2013.

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But the agreement does not allow Lincoln police to use the search's findings as the sole basis for an arrest.

And the technology is an efficient tool for identity theft investigations, city Public Safety Director Tom Casady said.

Plus, there are restrictions in place that allow use of the technology by only a few investigators from each agency.

At the Lincoln Police Department, a formal request to have a photo processed for comparison must be initiated internally before it's analyzed by the state database and can be reviewed by the police department's forensic identification unit, Casady said.

Use of the program is rare, he said.

Last year, Lincoln police submitted 17 photos to be analyzed and had four actual identifications, Casady said.

When asked if the patrol tracks its usage of the DMV database or an interstate photo system run by the FBI, Deb Collins, Public Information Officer for the state agency, said the Journal Star would have to file a public records request for such data.

Casady said he's aware of privacy concerns about the technology, but is more worried about the "non-governmental side of this than the governmental side."

Citizens have ways to push for change if they don't like how a government agency is using a technology, he said.

"Not so much over the private world.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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