SDPD'S facial recognition technology in national spotlight - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

SDPD'S facial recognition technology in national spotlight

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The San Diego Police Department is fighting back after a story in the New York Times put the department in the national spotlight for its use of facial recognition technology.

The spokesperson for the San Diego Police Department said he spotted several statements in a New York Times article this week that, he says, puts the department in a poor light nationally. He’s confident in police officers' use of facial recognition devices and says it’s a great tool. 

"I was very disappointed, obviously, to see the San Diego Police Department portrayed in that negative manner that was completely unjustified it was completely off base," said Scott Wahl a spokesperson with the SDPD.

In a top story for the New York Times Wednesday the publication features the San Diego Police Department in regards to its use of facial recognition technology. The equipment does takes a picture on a device like an iPad and the photo then matches the image with the system jail booking photos. It's used as an identification tool like many other departments in the region use, including the Chula Vista Police Department.

"If you've not been arrested or booked in county jail here in San Diego, then you won't be in the system ever,” said Wahl. “We don't add new pictures that we take out in the field to the system. We're not adding DNA, we're not adding any personal information of anybody, just existing booking photos."

Lt. Wahl said discrepancies in the New York Times article were allegations that the department did not know how many devices it had or that there was not a policy or training provided to officers on how to use it properly.

Wahl says the department has 89 facial recognition technology devices and that adopted its policy June 19 and in the meantime, it used regional guidelines.

The New York Times issued a correction in Thursday’s edition stating an earlier version of the article contains some outdated information.

“I was glad to see they made some modifications  that were a little closer  to being accurate, but really the whole entire experience with dealing with them was the worse I ever  had,” continued Wahl.

A big concern for many citizens is centered on law enforcement using surveillance technology without the public's consent.

The SDPF said that’s not their intent and the department  respects the public's privacy. 

CBS News 8 received a statement Friday from the San Diego ACLU on its stance for local law enforcement and the use of facial recognition technology:

"The ACLU has also raised serious concerns about indiscriminate use of facial recognition technology in San Diego and elsewhere. Many police departments are adopting new technologies (often without officer training) on the assumption it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission. We believe it makes more fiscal and common sense to implement clear policies that protect constitutional rights before engaging in questionable conduct.”

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