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Will facial recognition technology catch criminal suspects?

Facial recognition technology is improving. According to one researcher, the algorithms get smarter, the databases get bigger and the computational resources keep growing.

That may explain why the National Security Agency is reportedly building a database of facial images from communications intercepted in its global surveillance operations. In fact, other governmental agencies may be doing the same.

Specifically, law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels may be utilizing facial recognition technology to create databases. Such images may be pulled form Facebook, driver’s licenses, social media, videoconferences, and even emails and text messages. For example, readers may know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has an automated fingerprint identification system. According to a recent article, the FBI may have plans to add facial imagery to that database, as part of a next generation identification project.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is encouraging similar efforts at the local level by funding pilot projects around the country. The projects aim to help local police officials profile suspects in a crowd by using facial imagery.

Certain visual information is also maintained as a matter of course, such as passport photos by the U.S. State Department and driver’s license photos by state departments of motor vehicles.

Yet existing privacy laws may not expressly protect facial recognition data. That issue could prove troublesome in the area of criminal defense, especially if facial imagery signals the criminal investigative technique of the future. More than ever before, it may be important for an accused to consult with a criminal defense attorney about the way that prosecutorial evidence may have been obtained.

Source: The New York Times, “N.S.A. Collecting Millions of Faces From Web Images,” James Risen and Laura Poitras, May 31, 2014

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