ACLU Probes Police Use of Facial-Recognition

July 6, 2001 12:00 am

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ACLU Probes Police Use of Facial-Recognition
Surveillance Cameras in Florida City

Friday, July 6, 2001

TAMPA, FL-The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today released a letter to city officials here demanding information on what is being done with the captured video images of thousands of unsuspecting visitors and residents under a new video surveillance program.

“”This kind of high-tech overkill goes way beyond the traditional video surveillance methods you see at your local convenience store,”” said Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida. “It allows police officers to bypass individual consent and conduct searches at a whim without any evidence of wrongdoing.””

In a June 29 letter to Assistant City Attorney Kirby C. Rainsberger, Marshall requested a copy of the police department’s records retention policy pertaining to the use of a surveillance system during the Super Bowl last January. The software digitized the facial images of fans in an attempt to match them with mug-shot “depositories” of people with criminal records. At the time, the police department claimed to be checking for terrorists, but it identified only pick pockets and ticket scalpers.

That same type of facial identification system is now being used by the Tampa Police Department in Ybor City, where 36 cameras mounted above the entertainment district’s busy streets are constantly scanning the faces of passersby in search of a criminal match.

The software, called FaceIt, was developed by Visionics Corp. of Jersey City. Like the technology used during the SuperBowl, this program also matches digital face scans against photographs of those with criminal records held in a database at the police control room.

The database itself is maintained jointly by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Tampa Police Department.

“This surveillance practice will inevitably lead to high-tech racial profiling,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “People of color who are ‘not where they should be’ will be followed by the cameras, identified and then hassled, simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The full text of the letter to Assistant City Attorney Kirby C. Rainsberger appears below.


June 29, 2001

Kirby C. Rainsberger, Assistant City Attorney
City of Tampa Police Department
One Police Center
411 N. Franklin Street
Tampa, FL 33602

Dear Mr. Rainsberger:

The City of Tampa has yet to fully respond to our public records request. As set out in my April 26, 2001, letter, we have requested “a copy of the Tampa Police Department’s (and City’s) record retention policies as required under Fla. Stat. 119.01(4), along with any documentation of the approval of the retention policies by the Division of Library and Information Services of the Department of State. If the images were destroyed, we request documentation reflecting their destruction and documentation of the policy permitting such destruction.”

If these materials are not provided by July 15, 2001, we shall have no option other than filing a lawsuit. Your prompt attention to this matter will save the ACLU of Florida, and the City of Tampa, from what should be unnecessary litigation.


Randall C. Marshall

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