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    Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED: Hollywood-style surveillance technology inches closer to reality

    The Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED looked into emerging surveillance technologies that could have a significant impact on the privacy rights of individuals:

    [Ross McNutt] and his Ohio-based company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, persuaded the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to use his surveillance technology to monitor Compton’s streets from the air and track suspects from the moment the snatching occurred.

    The system, known as wide-area surveillance, is something of a time machine – the entire city is filmed and recorded in real time. Imagine Google Earth with a rewind button and the ability to play back the movement of cars and people as they scurry about the city. […]

    McNutt who holds a doctorate in rapid product development, helped build wide-area surveillance to hunt down bombing suspects in Iraq and Afghanistan. He decided that clusters of high-powered surveillance cameras attached to the belly of small civilian aircraft could be a game-changer in U.S. law enforcement. […]

    The Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED teamed up to take an inside look at the emerging technologies that could revolutionize policing – and how intrusively the public is monitored by the government. The technology is forcing the public and law enforcement to answer a central question: When have police crossed the line from safer streets to expansive surveillance that threatens to undermine the nation’s constitutional values?

    In one city, law enforcement officials don’t need to see your identification: They just need your face. Police officers in Chula Vista, near San Diego, already have used mobile facial recognition technology to confirm the identities of people they suspect of crimes. After using a tablet to capture the person’s image, an answer is delivered in eight seconds. (About 1 percent of the time, the system retrieves the wrong name, according to the manufacturer, FaceFirst.) […]

    The FBI, meanwhile, is finalizing plans this year to make 130 million fingerprints digital and searchable.

    Many of the fingerprints belong to people who have not been arrested but simply submitted their prints for background checks while seeking jobs. Civil libertarians worry that facial images for these individuals could be next. The FBI already maintains a collection of some 17 million mug shots. […]

    Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said she’s concerned the government will eventually collect and store face images like it does now with the tens of millions of fingerprints submitted by people seeking certain jobs. She’s worried such data will be merged with criminal records that are currently kept separate – resulting in innocent people being placed under suspicion.

    “Once the nation has a facial recognition database, and once facial recognition capabilities improve to the point that we can identify faces in a crowd, it will become possible for authorities to identify people as they move through society,” Lynch said.

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