By Justin Lee
April 10, 2017 - A bill passed in the Maryland House of Delegates and currently under consideration by a Senate committee would see a task force formed to study police use of surveillance technologies, such as facial recognition software, according to a report by Capital News Service.
If the bill, HB 1065, is passed, it would create the Task Force to Study Law Enforcement Surveillance Technologies, which would examine the state law enforcement’s use of surveillance tactics and make the appropriate recommendations.
“This goes back to the citizens’ right to know,” Delegate Charles Sydnor, D-Baltimore, said. “It seems as if we are moving toward a surveillance state with the type of surveillance used by law enforcement.”
Under the proposed legislation, law enforcement departments would have to disclose to the task force surveillance technologies that they are using and the task force would ascertain which technologies are constitutional.
Sydor told the Maryland House of Delegates on March 28 that the police use a range of surveillance technologies including cell-site simulators, aerial surveillance and facial recognition.
“I don’t necessarily have a problem with law enforcement using these technologies,” Sydnor said. “The concern is we need to make sure this is being used within the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment.”
Authorized investigators are currently allowed to upload digital images to Maryland Image Repository System to be searched against driver’s license images or police booking and intake photos, according to the Department of Public Public Safety and Correctional Services written testimony.
The department also added that the system provides a probability list of candidates that could potentially match the uploaded image, but it cannot audit the system to find out why an investigator used it in the first place.
Current guidelines require local law enforcement to have policies in place for the use of the system.
Sydnor said that he is unsure whether the Senate committee would pass the bill, but plans to reintroduce it for the next General Assembly if the committee rejects it..
Sydnor decided to back the bill in response to reports that Baltimore Police were using an aerial surveillance aircraft without first alerting city officials.
According to Toni Holness, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland, the task force would help to ensure that police do not violate Fourth Amendment rights when using surveillance technologies.
“The development of these technologies means that law enforcement has a greater capability to watch and follow you,” Holness said. “We have to watch out for a surveillance state, which is likely to happen if their power goes unchecked.”
Holness said that the emergence of new surveillance technologies has been outpacing the implementation of legislation to regulate its use, making the task force necessary for accountability.
The Government Accountability Office published a report in June 2016 on the Next Generation Identification-Interstate Photo System, a facial recognition database that allows the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to search over 30 million photos to help with criminal investigations.
The GAO made several recommendations to help improve the system’s accuracy after it discovered that the FBI did not test the system for the error rate or the detection rate for a list of potential matches under 50 people.