Planned Government Use of Facial-Recognition Drones in U.S. Raises Privacy Concerns

From AllGov:

By Wendy Lee, New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — The Department of Homeland Security is hiring in Silicon Valley — for drones.

Last week, technology entrepreneurs filled a Menlo Park conference room, where officials spelled out their needs — drones small and light enough to launch easily and fly over vast stretches of desert. The machines would look for questionable activity, scan faces of suspects and compare them against a database for prior criminal history.

Drones already operate along the border. Eight large Predator drones, each with a 66-foot wingspan, help agents with monitoring. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, told a Syracuse newspaper in April that he wanted to expand the use of drones at the border, in addition to the wall he wants to build.

Currently border drones do not use facial recognition technology, which remains controversial.

“There can be questions about how accurate that is and legitimate questions about how someone’s picture got into a database,” said John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog‘s privacy project.

Ari Schuler, a director of analytics integration for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said before any such technology is rolled out in the drones, it will be compliant with policy and law and there will be discussions with the agency’s privacy and civil rights offices. Chris Pietrzak, another Customs and Border Protection official, said that the department would test the technology using “synthetic data sets.”

If startups match what federal officials are seeking, they could receive $50,000 to $200,000 for each milestone. That’s much less than what a venture capitalist would offer. But in their presentation last week, officials touted how companies could test their drones on the department’s large network of airfields to see how they work in real life.

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