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NYPD Fools Facial Recognition Software with Celebrity Pics

A recent investigative report alleges that the New York Police Department routinely abused facial recognition software by submitting photos of celebrity lookalikes. The report from the Georgetown Center on Privacy and Technology noted that celebrity photos are just a portion of the so-called “probe photos” used to generate database hits, which also include stills from surveillance footage, or photos from social media profiles of potential suspects.

The report garnered widespread criticism from various community groups and privacy advocates.

"It doesn’t matter how accurate facial recognition algorithms are if police are putting very subjective, highly edited or just wrong information into their systems," says Clare Garvie, a senior associate at the Center on Privacy and Technology who wrote the report. "They're not going to get good information out. They're not going to get valuable leads. There's a high risk of misidentification. And it violates due process if they're using it and not sharing it with defense attorneys."

The report didn’t focus exclusively on policing in New York City, but also examined similar practices in Maricopa County, Arizona; Washington County, Oregon; and Pinellas County, Florida. Other routine practices included altering existing photos of suspects to make them look more like traditional mugshots, including one case where they pasted a closed mouth from a model photograph.

"These techniques amount to the fabrication of facial identity points: at best an attempt to create information that isn’t there in the first place and at worst introducing evidence that matches someone other than the person being searched for," the report says.

Potential preaching angles: God delights in both right practices and right outcomes, so going about the wrong way to do the right thing is doing the wrong thing. When we take shortcuts, we demonstrate our lack of trust in God’s timing.

Jon Schuppe, “NYPD used celebrity doppelgängers to fudge facial recognition results, researchers say” NBCNews.com (5-6-19)

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