Much like the Automated Fingerprint Index System (AFIS), developed in the 1990s to aid law enforcement in narrowing the number of possible suspects from lifted latent prints, facial recognition is another tool used to narrow the list of potential suspects from an unknown subject photograph.

This emerging technology is a tool to aid in furthering investigations, yet many privacy advocates are expressing concerns that it might be unfairly targeting minorities and invading the public’s privacy. These characterizations now threaten its use when all-out bans are proposed by local and state governments.

A currently moving bill in Massachusetts (S 1385) would place a moratorium on the use of facial recognition evidence by the government in any judicial proceeding, based on the stated presumption that facial recognition technology is racially biased in its application and violates personal privacy because it subjects every person to potential criminal investigation based on their appearance.

This legislation – and numerous other measures like it – fail to recognize the human analysis involved in facial recognition, according to the Electronic Security Association. When a one-to-many comparison is sought (unknown subject photograph compared to numerous known subject photos in a database), the result could be numerous or no similar photographed subjects. If none are found, no human intervention is needed. If one, two or 10 possible matches are identified, human intervention takes over and further analysis and investigation commences.

“Facial recognition is a powerful tool for electronic security today because it enhances video security, access control and identity management solutions in residential, commercial and government applications,” said Chris Heaton, vice president of advocacy and public affairs, ESA, on his Government Insider blog. “The potential use of facial recognition technology for criminal investigations creates a public policy debate that is beginning to play out, and it will be important for the electronic security industry to educate policy makers at all levels of government on how facial recognition improves public safety and creates no inherit threat of unjust or wrongful prosecutions. If its legitimate uses in the electronic security industry are not defended with proper education efforts, the use of the technology might be thrown out with the bath water by legislation blocking its use in broader applications.”