When you unlock your smartphone simply by looking at it or see your name tagged in a photo uploaded to Facebook, you’ve used facial recognition technology.
That technology has become popular because it’s a matter of convenience to you. And its use is growing among law enforcement agencies for the very same reason in a world with more surveillance footage than ever before.
New video processing software the Lincoln Police Department is considering purchasing in hopes of reducing the time officers spend studying video during investigations comes with an expansion of its facial recognition capabilities as a secondary feature.
Though some city governments have entirely banned the use of facial recognition technology amid concerns over privacy and effectiveness, such a move would be overkill here. Lincoln should ensure its existing guidelines are followed rather than preemptively prohibiting this practice.
Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister told the Journal Star’s Riley Johnson about a recent investigation where officers studied nearly seven days of film while tracking down leads in a case. As more video evidence is available to review, it stands to reason that more resources – both in terms of time and officers – are needed to ensure the quality Lincolnites expect from their police force. Let's free up officers for more police work.
The Lincoln City Council made a wise decision in 2013, requiring that evidence gleaned from facial recognition cannot be the sole basis for making an arrest. With technology advancing by leaps and bounds over the past six years, a review may be in order to ensure existing policy still strikes the proper balance between the public good of an investigation and the right to privacy.
As Uncle Ben is frequently shown telling Peter Parker in the Spider-Man comics and movies, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
We have no indication that LPD has improperly used facial recognition, and that must continue to be the case. This is a powerful tool for good, but it cannot be deployed in a manner that undermines public trust in its application.
In a 2016 editorial, we noted that barring use of facial recognition software following a report detailing its prevalence, “seems excessive and premature.” We also advocated then for regular reports on how this technology and similar tools were being used as a matter of transparency and accountability.
Those suggestions seem as apt now as when they were first posited. Though Lincoln is in no present danger of becoming an Orwellian surveillance state, technology of this nature must adhere to the principles Bliemeister has laid out, where this software remains a tool rather than becomes a weapon.
Facial recognition has become ubiquitous in our daily lives. Despite this, it needs to be used diligently in police work.