After a highly publicized and controversial two-year test, the city is discontinuing the use of facial recognition technology. Big Blind Brother
Tampa Abandons Facial Recognition Policing

While all good liberals were undoubtedly frolicking away the remnants of summer in the pristine wilderness of ANWR and the rest of us were hurriedly spending our tax cuts before President Dean takes them back, the Tampa, Florida police department made an announcement.

After a highly publicized and controversial two-year test, the city is discontinuing the use of facial recognition technology. The technology had been used in conjunction with closed-circuit cameras installed in Ybor City, Tampa’s historic "entertainment" district. Theoretically, the technology scans faces in the crowd, matching them to criminal databases.

When the program was introduced in June, 2001, it was met with a barrage of criticism from privacy advocates, including the Center for Individual Freedom. Those concerns had nothing to do with the program’s cancellation, according to Tampa Police Department statements.

The program was cancelled because after two years of operation, it produced no positive identifications. It produced no arrests. Not one. Not any. "It was of no benefit to us, and it served no real purpose," Tampa Police Captain Bob Guidara told reporters, fairly clearly.

From there, official pronouncements got murkier. "I wouldn’t call it a failure," police spokesman Joe Durkin told the St. Petersburg Times, although he didn’t define success. Identix Inc. (formerly Visionics Corporation), the company which developed the facial recognition technology and provided it to Tampa without charge, would only issue a one-sentence statement: "Identix has always stated that this technology requires safeguards, and that as a society we need to be comfortable with its use." What that has to do with facial recognition software that recognized no faces is known only to the gods of corporate public relations, soon likely to be running a resume service.

The fact remains that facial recognition technology produced no positive identifications, no arrests. In two years. In Ybor City. The odds of that, to anyone who has ever been there after dark on a weekend, strain credulity. We’re talking serious Sodom and Gomorrah wannabeism here, folks. The French Quarter without pralines. Greenwich Village absent talent. The Haight for people who can’t spell love.

Still, if the Ybor City experiment is not sufficient to return facial recognition technology to sender, the police in Virginia Beach haven’t caught anyone with it either, and a controlled test at Boston’s Logan Airport failed 96 times out of 249, using airport employee photographs.

Big Brother can be scary, but sometimes he’s just a joke.

September 4, 2003
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