Facial Recognition Software in Georgia Policing

Since 1956, law enforcement agencies have used video surveillance systems as a means of deterring, preventing, and prosecuting criminal acts. The miniaturization and decreasing cost of this technology now allows police departments across the United States to film suspects with hidden cameras.


But even more recently, facial recognition technology is being utilized in the criminal justice system. Facial recognition software uses algorithms to recognize and then represent patterns and relationships in human and facial features. These patterns and relationships are then compared to known photographs from a watch list, a video library of individuals stored in a law-enforcement database. The software offers a percentage score based on how confident the system is about a identification. Faces that do not match the database are immediately discarded.


In 2020, the Atlanta Police Department began using this technology to further their police practices. APD uses a software program called Clearview AI in order to identify suspects. The Supreme Court of Georgia recently issued a decision highlighting the use of such technology in Reeves v. State (S20A1005). In Reeves, investigators identified a murder suspect from photographs on Instagram. This photo was sent to the DMV who used facial recognition software to create a pool of potential suspects. The software indicated that the suspects drivers license photo was the best match. After determining the suspect was the one shown in the Instagram photos, detectives created a six person photographic array, which was then shown to the surviving victims. From the photographic array the shooter was identified.


The ability and quantity of these biometric applications is increasing everyday. In addition to facial recognition software, we can expect law-enforcement to develop and use other identification methods such as voice recognition, signature recognition, fingerprint imaging, and measurement scans, hand vein mapping, iris recognition, and retinal scans


These technologies have raised privacy considerations in our legislature, case law, and public discourse. While the use of facial recognition software presents a novel question to the courts, current case law suggests a willingness to approve the use of audio and video recordings as evidence in criminal cases, even without a search warrant in some instances. Over time, we can expect our definition of privacy to shift towards offering less protection as the scope of our constitutional rights are narrowed by emerging biometric technology.


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