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Chicago PD Emphasizing Facial Recognition for Investigations

by Anthony W. Accurso

A report from Business Insider made public an internal Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) presentation that emphasizes the increasing use of facial recognition to identify suspects in investigations.

Law enforcement agencies have been making a lot of noise about end-to-end encryption (“E2EE”) of private messaging applications, all but saying that E2EE will completely eliminate their ability to catch criminals. This is, of course, hyperbole, and the CPD is demonstrating how much data is, and will continue to be, publicly available for law enforcement agencies to use.

The internal presentation about facial recognition is a schizophrenic attempt to hype the ability of the technology to identify suspects, while also minimizing its role as “only a small part of the equation,” according to

In a bizarre moment of cubicle culture cheerleading, one slide in the presentation proclaims “THANK YOU FACEBOOK!” Other slides identify “high-definition cameras” and “selfie culture” as similarly praiseworthy developments. Facebook’s contribution to police use of facial recognition software has been significant.

Facebook, unlike most other social media platforms, requires users to provide accurate demographic information about themselves when creating or updating an account. Coupled with other cultural and technological shifts, this results in millions of publicly available photos that can be linked back to real people, even when those people object to such identification. See the relatively new meme, “I’m in this photo, and I don’t like it.”

Police have been adopting a laisse–faire attitude toward data collection, even to the point of buying data on innocent civilians from companies that sell it. If a person or company can freely access something—like photos posted on Facebook—then law enforcement also has access and isn’t afraid to use it either.

CPD’s presentation makes it clear that the agency is using several facial recognition platforms, including Amazon’s Reckognition (which it has prohibited police from using through its terms of service), as well as options from NEC, Cognitec, and Dataworks Plus. With this increased reliance on this less-than-reliable technology, it is only a matter of time before CPD blunders and arrests or charges the wrong person for a crime they didn’t commit—as the Detroit Police Department has done at least twice.

The CPD has a long history of rights violations and internal corruption, and the presentation contains several caveats, saying that officers should not assume a single match in the software means positive identification of a suspect, and that is shouldn’t be used to “confirm an identification by other means.”

But this is corporate–culture double– speak, as the CPD is encouraging its officers to rely more on facial recognition software. 


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