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7.28.22 – SSI – NEW ORLEANS

New Orleans is the latest in a number of jurisdictions that have reversed or altered their facial recognition bans after recognizing a need for the technology.

The New Orleans city council approved an ordinance last week that restores use of facial recognition technology tools to aid criminal investigations by the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), though under new “guardrails” and subject to a comprehensive use policy approved by the state and federal government.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell expressed support for the measure, which reverses a ban in effect since 2020, and is expected to approve it when it reaches her desk.

New Orleans, which led the nation in murders halfway through the year, is the latest jurisdiction where lawmakers are rethinking blanket bans and seeking to establish rules instead.

Against a backdrop of rising crime, the real-world impact of sweeping bans on facial recognition technology was highlighted in the debates and testimony in New Orleans. At last Thursday’s hearing, NOPD’s Sgt. David Barnes provided an example of a case he worked on during the ban, in which use of the technology could have led to faster identification and apprehension of a suspected serial rapist whose image had been obtained.

Instead, the suspect was identified much later using DNA evidence after another abduction and rape had occurred. In another example, detectives investigating an officer-involved shooting needed to reach a key witness whose image was recorded during the incident, but they could not be identified.

The Security Industry Association (SIA) has been keeping track of facial recognition usage in jurisdictions across the country.

It notes that earlier this year, Virginia lawmakers replaced the state’s ban on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology with comprehensive rules, key protections were added in Alabama and Kentucky moved to establish statewide standards. Additionally, city council members in West Lafayette, Ind., rejected a proposed ban for city agencies.

In regards to New Orleans and Virginia, SIA says,

The facial recognition measures in New Orleans and Virginia have key protections in common. Both address concerns about possible misidentification by ensuring potential match results alone are never considered probable cause for an arrest or to obtain a search warrant. This ensures that in the hands of law enforcement, facial recognition remains a post-incident investigative tool to aid identification — but not confirm identities. A possible match identified by such software is considered a lead similar to a tip received after publicly posting a suspect photo — investigators must use other means to find and confirm further evidence both to positively identify the person and to establish probable cause.

But before this happens, under both measures a use policy is required that ensures multiple levels of supervisor review prior to performing facial recognition comparisons, as well as documentation and tracking of details such as the source of the comparison image and underlying case information. Both the New Orleans and Virginia measures completely ban use of facial recognition by law enforcement as a surveillance tool – a further bulwark against potential future misuse.

You can read a full analysis from SIA here.