Hundreds of Florida Police Departments Participate in a Statewide Facial Recognition Program

The city of Boca Raton is letting its police force participate in a statewide facial recognition program, joining hundreds of communities in Florida employing the controversial crime-fighting technology.

The City Council has unanimously approved the partnership with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, which, according to data from the FBI, maintains a database that draws from over 38 million photos of driver’s license photos, mugshots and images taken by or provided to law enforcement from security footage.

Most major law enforcement agencies in South Florida currently use facial recognition technology. “Essentially, this system is a face or biometric comparison tool used to assist in obtaining investigative leads by identifying persons of interest to law enforcement,” according to a city memo, which added it wouldn’t cost the city any money to participate.

The use of facial recognition technology has drawn scrutiny from civil liberties advocates and constitutional law experts, who have long warned about the privacy concerns, as well as the potential for mistaken identities and abuse of the technology.

The partnership was set to take effect in June. Boca Raton police say they first are reviewing their agency’s policy on use of facial recognition technology, noting how there are limitations to how the program is used. That policy must be finalized and submitted to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office within 90 days, under the terms of the partnership.

“A new user agreement is in the process of being executed with Pinellas County,” according to a statement from the police department. “In light of this we are reviewing our policy.”

Boca Raton Police’s current policy for using facial recognition technology — which was last updated in September of 2020 — says, in part, that it’s not a real-time surveillance system. It says that the images in the database are “strictly” obtained from jail booking photos and driver’s license photos, and also that an identification through facial recognition requires additional investigation.

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