During the George Floyd protests in South Florida, facial-recognition technology was deployed to identify protesters — who had committed no crimes – by the Broward County sheriff, and the Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton police departments.
That finding, through joint investigative reporting by the South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Pulitzer Center, revealed the stunning degree to which police were using surveillance on protesters. That included protests in Boca Raton in which “surprising images of solidarity” had shown police officers in riot gear taking a knee with cheering protesters.
“Behind the scenes, however, police photographed protesters,” the Sun-Sentinel reported Saturday. “And they ran protest-related images through a vast and unregulated facial recognition database, records show. That’s like going through a crowd and inspecting people’s driver’s licenses, which would almost certainly be prohibited as an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.”
“In one case, records show, police requested matching images and identifying information for a “possible protest organizer” as well as their various “associates.” In another, police ran nearly 20 searches linked to “Intelligence,” a controversial use of the technology before a crime has even been committed.
“Police sometimes use facial recognition technology to track down violent and lawbreaking protesters, as Miami police did with one woman accused of hurling rocks at officers during a protest last summer. But legal experts say police go too far when they seek facial recognition matches of people assembling peacefully to make their voices heard, and it’s especially troubling when they are protesting for police reform.”
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