At the end of each summer for the last 14 years, the small Welsh town of Porthcawl has been invaded. Every year its 16,000 population is swamped by up to 35,000 Elvis fans. Many people attending the yearly festival look the same: they slick back their hair, throw on oversized sunglasses and don white flares. At 2017's Elvis festival, impersonators were faced with something different. Police were trialling automated facial recognition technology to track down criminals.
Amazon's facial recognition technology, Rekognition, continues to cause controversy. In documents recently obtained by BuzzFeed News, we now have a behind-the-scenes look at how Orlando police have been using the technology. After the city let the original pilot program expire after public outcry, Orlando started a second pilot program with an "increased" number of face-scanning cameras. Amazon's Rekognition is described broadly as a visual analysis tool. But, deployed by law enforcement, it can scan faces caught on camera and match them against faces in criminal databases.
South Wales police are to have a facial recognition app installed on their phones to identify suspects without having to take them to a police station. The force intends to test the app over the next three months with 50 officers using the technology to confirm the names of people of interest who are stopped on routine patrols. The app will allow officers to run a snapshot of a person through a database of suspects called a watchlist, and find potential matches even if the individual gives false or misleading information. The move is the latest sign that police forces in Britain are eager to embrace the controversial technology which has been criticised for infringing privacy and increasing state powers of surveillance. Liberty, the campaign group, called the announcement "chilling", adding that it was "shameful" that South Wales police had chosen to press ahead with handheld facial recognition systems even as it faced a court challenge over the technology.
If you're reading this in the United States, there's a 50 percent chance that a photo of your face is in at least one database used in police facial-recognition systems. Police departments in nearly half of U.S. states can use facial-recognition software to compare surveillance images with databases of ID photos or mugshots. Some departments only use facial-recognition to confirm the identity of a suspect who's been detained; others continuously analyze footage from surveillance cameras to determine exactly who is walking by at any particular moment. Altogether, more than 117 million American adults are subject to face-scanning systems. These findings were published Tuesday in a report from Georgetown Law's Center for Privacy and Technology.