NYPD going high-tech, as some fear 'Big Brother'
Computer software that can recognize faces from grainy surveillance video and match them to massive databases.
Digital three-dimensional images of footprints that can identify a person by the way they walk and the type of shoe they wear.
These are the latest “CSI”-like tools the mayor proposed Monday for the NYPD in the department’s increasingly high-tech fight against crime. Critics pounced on the news, with some accusing the city of adopting “Big Brother” tactics.
“We’re already in a police state in our community,” said City Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn). “What about finding a way to track police brutality?”
Norman Siegel, former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, added that the technology would need to be carefully monitored.
“Historically, there have been substantial questions about facial recognition software, specifically with high false positives,” he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who unveiled the proposals at a new conference announcing that his re-election campaign has received the endorsement of three police unions, argued for the use of the technology.
“We have made New York the safest big city in the nation and we will continue to combat crime on every city street and protect New Yorkers from outside threats,” Bloomberg said.
Campaign officials could not provide specifics about the cost of the new measures and would only say that they would be “implemented in the months ahead.”
The facial recognition software would be integrated into the NYPD’s Real Time Crime Center, a data warehouse that police across the city can use to access millions of records and track crime statistics in real time. Images from surveillance cameras, for instance, would be cross-checked with police mug shots.
Other initiatives will include:
- A “footwear database,” that will store images of footprints at crime scenes that police can check against the markings of common types of shoes to identify a suspect’s footwear. Cops could also analyze the prints and identify suspects by the angle of the footfall and weight distribution.
- Asking cell phone companies to provide consent forms for people to allow cops to track their phones. This could be used in missing persons cases.
- Use GPS to track people who have been ordered by a judge to stay away from known gang members.
Shayana Kadidal, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said such technology can lead police “wildly astray.”
“The people selling this technology have an incentive to overstate its reliability,” he said.