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Cops using high-tech surveillance in Florida

Face recognition for the masses

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Tampa, Florida police are using video cameras and face recognition software to scan the streets in search of -- you guessed it -- sex offenders. Software called Faceit provided by security outfit Visionics quickly compares the face of a target against a database of people wanted on active warrants from the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office and a list of sex offenders maintained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Because there is no group of people more universally despised than sexual predators and pedos (and with good reason, we'll add freely), police and Feds like to emphasize them as legitimate surveillance targets, hoping that ordinary citizens will fail to observe that their own civil liberties must necessarily slide down the very same slippery slope.

The Faceit system is similar in function to the faceFINDER equipment sold by Viisage, as employed against crowds at this year's Super Bowl, also in Tampa, Florida.

When the Faceit apparatus comes up with a decent match, cops using it in a remote location can contact others on the street via radio and instruct them to move in.

If the subject happens not to be wanted, but merely looks like someone who is, the police will do a little song and dance explaining the intrusion and momentary detention with the standard appeal to the citizen's own protection, and hope fervently not to get sued.

Congressional hackles raised

The 106th Congress talked up a storm about privacy, but ostentatiously neglected to do anything about it. Now, perhaps buoyed by a recent Supreme Court decision in Kyllo v. United States condemning high-tech surveillance in the home, the 107th might get some traction on the issue.

House Majority Leader Richard Armey (Republican, Texas) has already denounced the Faceit system as Orwellian.

"Placing police officers in a remote control booth to watch the every move of honest citizens isn't going to make us safer," Armey notes. "This is a full-scale surveillance system. Do we really want a society where one cannot walk down the street without Big Brother tracking our every move?"

Armey came out swinging during a speech he delivered to the Federalist Society last week, characterizing government as "quite simply the biggest privacy offender around."

"Local government has also been getting in on the act," he noted. "Cities around the country have engaged in a publicity campaign to tell us that it's acceptable to give up privacy and constitutional protections in the name of safety. They do so to pave the way for red light and photo radar cameras."

"These Orwellian machines are judge, jury and executioner all in one efficient box."

Another of Armey's pet hates is the FBI's packet sniffer, Carnivore, which scans packet traffic indiscriminately, "despite the Fourth Amendment requirement that a specific warrant be issued before your papers can be searched."

Armey's basic views are shared by several other notable privacy fundamentalists -- in the House by Edward Markey (Democrat, Massachusetts), and in the Senate by Fred Thompson (Republican, Tennessee) and Richard Shelby (Republican, Alabama).

The question now is whether the Supreme Court decision in Kyllo can provide enough momentum for the Hill's minority of privacy activists to persuade the vast majority of fence-sitters to take something like action.

Well, ya gotta dream.... ®

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