Law Enforcement’s Use of Facial Recognition Technology Faces Criticism

SACRAMENTO -- After a gunman opened fire at the Capitol Gazette newspaper in Maryland, killing five people, police used facial recognition to identify the suspect, Jarrod Ramos.

It's hard to go anywhere these days without being caught on camera. From surveillance cameras in shopping centers, to video doorbells and social media, facial recognition can attach a name to a face.

Police agencies across the country are using the technology to identify people breaking the law.

"They'll just click on face capture and then what they do is they just line up the person's face, it's pretty self-explanatory. It just takes the picture," said Detective James Hart with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Property Crimes Bureau.

Hart demonstrated how deputies can use their cell phones to capture an image of a possible suspect.

"Taking measurements between different features of your eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks," Hart told FOX40.

In seconds, their app provides a list of possible identifications based on booking photographs.

Detective Hart recently used the tool to help identify a suspect in a string of cell phone robberies across Sacramento.

"It's a huge time saver and a force multiplier," said Sacramento County Sheriff's Sgt. Shaun Hampton.

Hampton was one of the first in the department to be trained in facial recognition about four years ago. Now, all deputies and investigators can use it.

It can even help identify possible suspects through social media photographs, surveillance images and even composite sketches.

Critics call the practice "dangerous" but the sheriff' department insists it isn't about surveillance, it's about catching criminals.

"This is not something we're utilizing to scan people's faces as they're walking down the street or driving in a car," Hampton said.

With time, the technology is getting advanced and more accurate.

The ACLU has been very critical of law enforcement's use of facial recognition. In a statement, they told FOX40 in part, "Law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology raises profound civil rights concerns and has been aggressively marketed to conduct mass surveillance."

Because of their concerns, the ACLU wants the public to be involved before this type of technology is used.

The only photographs that remain on file are booking photographs through the Sacramento County Jail or any other departments that use and share their databases. If your photograph is taken while law enforcement is searching for a suspect, it will not be kept on file. In fact, it could actually rule out individuals.