Adams Proposes Expansion to NYPD Use of Facial Recognition Software

People Faces Recognized With Intellectual Learning System
Selective Focus Of People Faces Recognized With Intellectual Learning System. Illustration from 123RF.

Just weeks after taking his first paycheck in Cryptocurrency, Mayor Eric Adams is continuing his push to bring New York City into the future with his announcement to increase police funding for biometric identification, a.k.a. facial recognition technology.

Facial recognition software allows its users to take an image of an individual’s face from surveillance footage and cross-reference it with a database of billions of pictures – many of them found on the internet – to identify that individual. 

This technology is utilized in foreign countries including China, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Japan for a variety of purposes. In China, it’s used primarily for security, but also to analyze the behavior of school children in the classroom.

Adams discussed how this plan would be funded in his preliminary 2023 fiscal budget, which he unveiled in a Wednesday press conference at City Hall. One of the more controversial policing methods Adams said he wanted to expand, in a question and answer session following the press conference, is facial recognition technology.

“I’m a big believer in using facial recognition correctly within the confines of the law,” Adams told reporters. “I’m a big believer in that (if) we have technology out there that could define now, if people are carrying a gun, we should use that. We should not leave any legal stone unturned to utilize technology to make New Yorkers safe. Other countries are using smart technologies to do so and we’re going to do that. We’re not going to be intrusive, and abusive with that technology.”

The sci-fi initiative stays consistent with Adams’ focus on reducing violent crime – particularly gun violence – across the city.

After two NYPD officers were murdered by a gunman last month when responding to a domestic dispute, Adams’ mandate to address spiking crime only grew more urgent. That’s why, soon after their deaths, the mayor released his “Blueprint to End Gun Violence” – a plan to tackle the issue.

Since 2011, the NYPD has used this software to compare images captured from criminal investigations with its database of mugshots. During that time, the department says the technology helped it solve a number of violent crimes including murders, felony assualts, and rapes. But the NYPD claims the software is always employed as one of many investigative tools to solve a crime and is never the only basis for an arrest.

The use of facial recognition technology by the NYPD and other police departments around the country has also come under intense scrutiny over questions that it violates people’s privacy and may not always be accurate. According to a published report, critics have argued it’s worse at identifying people of color as well as young and old individuals.

The NYPD’s application of facial recognition software has promoted five lawsuits and even city council legislation passed two years ago requiring the department to disclose its use of surveillance tools.

On Wednesday Adams said he’s tapping his Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser and the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Philip Banks, to see how the NYPD can expand its use of the software. 

But Adams spokesman Fabien Levy told PoliticsNY it’s actually the NYPD itself that’ll take charge of expanding this program.

“They’re going to examine this technology and see what’s out there and see what can be done in a legal and very constitutional way that protects privacy,” Levy said. “And then they’ll determine what to move forward with.”

Adams’ spokespeople referred any additional questions to the NYPD’s Department of Public Information (DCPI). However, DCPI deflected any questions back to City Hall. 

Additionally, the office of the mayor’s Chief Technology Officer didn’t respond to a request for comment at post time.

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