The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has released a report indicating that facial-recognition tools used in a two-month trial in Tampa’s Ybor City were ineffective. What was intended to be a 12-month trial of Visionics’ Face-It technology at an outdoor, commercial shopping district was halted after only two months. The Tampa Police Department claim the halt was due to administrative disruptions and that the department intended to resume the trial in the future.

The report details that during the two-month trial not a single person was identified by the Face-It system using the department’s criminal database. It did, however, produce many false identifications. The ACLU report says that the Florida system logs showed false matches between people photographed by system cameras and the department’s database of criminals, sex offenders and runaways. It matched male and female subjects and people with significant differences in age or weight.

Frances Zelazny, a spokesperson for Visionics, says, “Maybe there was no criminal present in Ybor City at the time the system was turned on. This is an investigative tool for law enforcement to use – just like a metal detector at an airport. The system does not go and put handcuffs on anyone. A human operator has to verify the match.”

Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the ACLU and an author of the report, says, “Face recognition is all hype and no actions. Potentially powerful surveillance systems like face recognition need to be examined closely before they are deployed, and the first question to ask is whether the system will actually improve our safety. The experience of the Tampa Police Department confirms that this technology doesn’t deliver.”

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