ACLU of Virginia Seeks Information on Virginia Beach's Facial Recognition Technology System

September 2, 2003

Tampa, Logan Airport Experiences Show System Is Flawed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

RICHMOND, VA -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the City of Virginia Beach seeking detailed information on the use of facial recognition technology at the oceanfront resort.  

The request comes in the wake of a recent decision by officials in Tampa, Florida to drop the high-tech face-identifying system and revelations in today's USA Today that the system used at Logan Airport in Boston has failed.

""From Virginia Beach to the streets of Tampa to the security gates of Boston's Logan airport, face recognition has failed,"" said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the national ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program. ""The innocent are brought under false suspicion and the truly dangerous will go undetected.""

Kent Willis, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, noted that Virginia Beach has already invested several hundred thousand dollars in implementing the system and subjected thousands of visitors to the prying eyes of government surveillance cameras, all for no reason whatsoever. ""Even before we have the materials requested from Virginia Beach, we know that the system is not working,"" Willis said. 

Facial recognition technology matches images captured by surveillance cameras with photographs stored in a computer database.  In Tampa and Virginia Beach, the technology was intended to be used to match faces of pedestrians with mug shots of individuals wanted by the police.  According to USA Today, there were no matches in Tampa over a two-year period, and Virginia Beach, which began using the system last year, did not have a single match as of July.  

At Logan Airport, volunteers had their pictures taken and stored in the database, then entered the airport to see if the system would detect them. The purpose of the experiment was to determine if the system could identify terrorists before they boarded airplanes.  The cameras failed 96 times and correctly identified the volunteers 153 times. The airport's own report called the rate of inaccuracy ""excessive.""

The ACLU of Virginia's Freedom of Information Act request is online at /cpredirect/14873

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