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White House launches facial recognition program that takes your photo outside

A United States Secret Service agent stands guard at the White House (Matt Popovich/Flickr)
December 07, 2018

On Nov. 19, the Secret Service began testing a pilot facial recognition system on the grounds of the White House.

The new system works through security cameras by taking pictures of individuals and then runs the images through a database to see if they are a match for “people of interest.”

This new system has sparked some concerns that the government is increasing public monitoring by way of advanced technology tools, NBC News reported.

While this is currently just a test run, the system is capturing images of the faces of pedestrians on the streets and walkways just outside of the White House grounds.

The Secret Service said if people don’t want their image captured, they “may choose to avoid the area.”

The pilot will run until Aug. 2019. All images are restricted to the White House security system, according to The Washington Times.

All images will be purged from the system upon the pilot’s completion.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union said this “crosses an important line by opening the door to the mass, suspicionless scrutiny of Americans on public sidewalks.”

According to the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University Law Center, “Most adult Americans are already in a facial recognition database of some kind, the result of governments formatting driver’s license and passport photos for such use.”

Facial recognition has become increasingly popular with the Department of Homeland Security using it at border crossings and certain airports.

It is also used by law enforcement. Amazon is even collaborating with Orlando police with a product called Rekognition and has implemented a pilot program similar to the one now being tested at the White House.

The pilot will assist the Secret Service in expediting the identification of “people of interest” who may pose potential threats to the White House.

The current system uses still images from surveillance cameras which then need to be manually matched against a list of “people of interest.”

People of interest are defined as anyone deemed potentially threatening due to past problems with police, posts on their social media, media reports, or public tips.

Regulations that would define how facial recognition can be used are very limited and have been best left for specific agencies to do what they see fit.

The Secret Service declined to comment and would not say where cameras are located or who they employed to provide the facial recognition system.

Civil rights advocates are concerned about potential abuse and that using tools such as these could prevent the government from singling out certain groups.

Further concerns are that facial recognition is run by algorithms that can identify people incorrectly, especially particular races.