Seattle police gets facial-recognition software

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The Seattle police department will begin using facial-recognition technology later this year to compare images of unidentified subjects with a database of more than 350,000 existing mug shots.

The Seattle City Council approved the use of the software last week under a policy created with input from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Police in Seattle currently most manually compare suspected photos, usually caught on a surveillance camera, with jail-booking mug shots. Police also work with neighboring jurisdictions in hope someone will be able to identify surveillance images.

“It’s called booking-photo comparison software,” police spokesman Mark Jamieson said in an interview with the Seattle Times. “The software measures the distance of points on the face using an algorithm of individual matching points on the eyes, the ears, the nose and the chin. Everybody’s face is unique to them, kind of like a fingerprint.”

The department has been looking to procure the software for nearly four years, but wanted to make sure it had the proper privacy regulations in place to relieve concerns over abuse.

The policy states the police are only to use the software of people suspected of criminal activity and not to be used in other capacities, such as taking photographs of a large crowd and targeting individuals based on their history.

The software will be loaded onto one of several workstations throughout King, Snohomish and Pierce counties that will be connected to a main server in Pierce County. The main server will be home to photos of adults who have been booked into county jails in the three counties.

The software is being paid for by a $1.6 million federal homeland security grant. Other law-enforcement agencies in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties will also be able to use it.

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States, Washington
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