The Seattle Police Department is preparing to purchase a new facial recognition software program with a federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
Set to be purchased next month, the software will reportedly be used to scan and compare surveillance video to the city’s mugshot database.
With the city facing mounting opposition for several other privacy issues, police were quick to claim that the software would only be used when surveillance video of a suspected crime was obtained.
“An officer has to reasonably believe that a person has been involved in a crime or committed a crime,” Seattle Police Asst. Chief Carmen Best said.
Despite reassurances from the city and police, surveillance-weary residents pointed to the city’s continued abuses with surveillance technology.
“I think the Seattle Police Department have a well earned reputation for distrust by the public,” privacy advocate Phil Mocek said during a city council meeting Wednesday.
One group in particular, the Seattle Privacy Coalition, compared the city’s actions to the federal government’s never-ending domestic surveillance rollout.
“You got kind of a small-scale Seattle version of the dragnet surveillance that’s happening nationally that’s been in the news the last year,” said David Robinson of the Seattle Privacy Coalition.
When asked if the federal government would be given access to information collected, Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell argued that the city would need to share its data to protect the country from potential terrorists.
“There may be times where the federal government may want to look at that database,” Harrell said. “That may be very appropriate if we have international terrorists here that might have committed a misdemeanor.”
While promising to focus the new software on suspected criminals only, papers released by WikiLeaks in 2012 revealed Seattle’s secret participation in TrapWire, a sophisticated facial recognition program run through the city’s CCTV cameras. Given that the Seattle government willingly scanned the faces of countless innocent residents without their knowledge, few trust the new pledge to suddenly use the technology in a lawful manner.
Although the city claims it will release regular reports regarding data requests made by outside agencies, several recent reports already show that the city is sharing innocent individuals’ data with Homeland Security.
Exclusive documents released by Storyleak and Infowars last November revealed that Seattle’s Homeland Security-funded mesh network, which siphons unsuspecting cell phone users data while traveling through the downtown area, is directly tied into the city’s DHS-run Fusion Center.
Documents also revealed how the city’s vast collection of surveillance cameras are tied directly into the mesh network, which can be viewed and controlled remotely from inside police vehicles. Despite Assistant Police Chief Paul McDonagh claiming last year that no video footage collected could be kept for more than 30-days, a specification spreadsheet revealed the city’s early proposal request for “at least 60-day archival recording capacity.”
The mesh network is directly linked into 30 Port of Seattle surveillance cameras as well, reportedly installed to protect the area from acts of terrorism. Unsurprisingly, residents quickly noted that multiple cameras were facing inward toward Seattle homes, an “accident” later fixed by city officials.
Although the mesh network was deactivated following public outcry, the system is set to be turned back on as the city continues to push all possible surveillance technologies on the public.
Last year, Seattle police announced that several precincts would begin implementing predictive policing software, a program that combines advanced mathematical algorithms with crime data to predict where crimes will occur down to a 500-square-foot area. While the program has thus far remained under the radar, police deny claims by civil liberties advocates that the program will be used directly on individuals.
Although the city has successfully implemented several surveillance programs, residents have stopped several as well. Seattle police were forced to return two drones, purchased with an $82,000 federal grant, after civil liberties activists voiced harsh opposition to the program last year.
Despite the government’s continued claim of needing vast surveillance capabilities to protect the public from terrorism, which kills less people annually than bee stings, fewer and fewer Americans are supporting the notion, especially in light of the government’s public support of Al Qaeda jihadists in Syria.
As Homeland Security continues to flood countless states with tax-payer money for increased surveillance technology, the agency itself is not immune to public pressure either. Wednesday evening, the agency announced the cancellation of its plan to build a national license plate tracking database following a Drudge Report featured exposé by Infowars.