Sheriff defends use of facial recognition to fight crime

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Facial recognition software has become a popular tool for law enforcement agencies to identify suspects by comparing the facial features of thousands of citizens, but many Americans have no idea their pictures are part of the virtual line-up.

Pictures that are public record make up the database, including driver's license pictures, state-issued identifications, mug shots and correctional photos.

"It's kind of invading privacy, to me," said St. Petersburg resident Alyshia Jones. "They can just look up anything that's on my [record] and stuff like that. I just don't like it."

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri defended the system on Wednesday.

"All we're doing is taking what's in that public record database and using it," said Gualtieri. "This isn't some super secret thing. This isn't some surreptitious collection of information... That's not what our system is. It's not what we do. It's not how we use it."

Gualtieri said the system allows law enforcement to find possible suspects faster.

"What it is, is a very efficient and cost efficient way of accomplishing what you would do manually, because otherwise, you'd have to sit there for hours and hours and pour through manual photographs," said Gualtieri.

In a new report released by the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law, scholars debated whether facial recognition systems violate the Fourth Amendment, which grants citizens the right to privacy and protection from unreasonable searches without a warrant.

"This isn't anything to do with anybody's privacy rights," said Gualtieri. "This is really no different that what has been done with finger prints."

The sheriff said the only photos being used are taken with consent. He said his system is not the same as a facial recognition system Tampa police launched in 2001, which scanned faces in crowds in Ybor City. TPD scrapped the system two years later, saying that it did not help fight crime and never identified any criminals.