Los Angeles Police Commission authorizes oversight for use of facial recognition technology
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Los Angeles Police Commission authorizes oversight for use of facial recognition technology

The Los Angeles Police Commission adopted a policy on Tuesday that establishes oversight measures for the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) use of facial recognition technology. The controversial facial recognition tool allows detectives to compare criminal suspects’ photos to millions of individuals’ mugshots taken in Los Angeles County.

The five-member Police Commission unanimously approved the proposal. The new policy limits the authorized uses and systems for LAPD detectives and other trained officers to use the photo comparison technology. It requires the department to use the tool for investigative leads only, authorizing use exclusively to “mitigate an imminent threat to life” and to assist in identifying “incapacitated, unconscious, or dead people.”

The policy also restricts the number of software platforms available to LAPD detectives and officers. It mandates that the LAPD must use a single database, which only uses mugshots and is far less expansive than third-party search platforms. Notably, the policy sets up oversight measures requiring LAPD to collect data and generate reports to determine how the system is being used and whether it is being used in compliance with requirements.

The Police Commission’s move followed fierce opposition to the facial recognition software from civil rights activists and privacy advocates. These critics argue that the technology contributes to racial bias and point to data that demonstrates it does not assist in the department’s investigations. The activists hoped for the Police Commission to ban the technology outright, identifying studies that show it has frequently been inaccurate.

The policy seeks to alleviate the civil rights and privacy concerns, stating that the purpose of the new measures is to ensure that authorized users of the facial recognition technology are not “violating the privacy, civil rights, or civil liberties of individuals.” Police Commissioner William Briggs stated he believes “there are protections in place to prevent this type of wholesale violation of civil rights,” which concerns activists.