New York using facial recognition software at bridges, toll roads

Anyone who has been reading this site for a while can tell you that it’s a rare day indeed when I find some area of agreement with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. (And that’s putting it mildly.) But I’m still more than willing to give credit when credit is due and law enforcement policy in New York is no exception. In a recent announcement, Governor Cuomo stunned (or even angered) many of his progressive supporters when he announced that cameras with facial recognition software were being installed to spot criminals in some of the state’s traffic tunnels, bridges and other choke points. This is a trend that’s been spreading across the nation of late, but it’s still rather surprising to see it in a liberal bastion like the Empire State. (NY Post)

Facial-recognition cameras at bridge and tunnel toll plazas across the city are already scanning drivers’ visages and feeding them into databases to catch suspected criminals, Gov. Cuomo revealed Friday.

“When it reads that license plate, it reads it for scofflaws . . . [but] the toll is almost the least significant contribution that this electronic equipment can actually perform,” Cuomo said at a press conference outside the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

“We are now moving to facial-recognition technology which takes it to a whole new level, where it can see the face of the person in the car and run that technology against databases.

“Because many times a person will turn their head when they see a security camera, so they are now experimenting with technology that just identifies a person by their ear, believe it or not,” he continued.

As you would expect, the Civil Liberties Union of New York was immediately up in arms. They chastised the governor for adopting technology which they claim is notoriously inaccurate at recognizing “people of color, women and children.” Really? I have heard that facial recognition software has trouble identifying children over periods of time because their features change so rapidly. But when it comes to adults, I had been under the impression that it was mostly a psychological trick of the trade to say that people of one race (usually whites) are unable to recognize or differentiate between people of another race. If that problem is built into our software it would be really shocking. In fact, one might almost call the claim racist.

The NYCLU went on to make the typical “Big Brother is watching” case.

“Government should not be casting a dragnet to track everyone going about their day through the state’s bridges and tunnels, especially not when that data could be shared with other law-enforcement agencies, including immigration authorities.”

We’ve heard it so often now that most people involved in this debate can probably recite it by heart. But the fact is, the government isn’t tracking everyone going about their daily business. There’s a database of people who are already known and sought by the police. The cameras take pictures of people passing through these traffic channels and compare the pictures to the people in that database. If they match one of the suspects in the database an alarm goes off. If not, the person is not flagged.

New York City (and the rest of the state) has seen a remarkable decrease in violent crime even as other cities have surged back to levels not seen in decades. One reason is smarter policing even when they don’t have more police. The Mayor of New York City is no friend to the cops and doesn’t provide them with much support, but overall they still get the job done. So take this as a tip of the hat to Governor Cuomo for risking some political damage by agreeing to make these tools available to law enforcement.