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Law enforcement agencies are beginning to adopt a wide range of new technologies to improve their surveillance and identification capabilities. Adoption is being driven by improvements in technology, like Big Data, and the low cost of storing electronic data.
The FBI, for example, is beginning work on a new $1 billion program called the Next Generation Identification (NGI) with a target go-live date for the system scheduled for 2014. Fingerprints, which have been standard technology for decades, would be supplemented with newer identification technology and data types to enable DNA analysis, voice identification, facial recognition, biometric recognition like iris/retina scans, and more sophisticated analysis for identifying and matching fingerprints, palm prints and body markings, like tattoos.
In addition to identification, the wide-scale use of surveillance and tracking systems is also becoming common. One example is New York City which has set up 3000 closed-circuit cameras in Manhattan for continual monitoring of the stream of people walking their streets. Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, explained that technology as applied to law enforcement “enables officers to instantly assemble, analyze, and respond to information streaming in from a wide range of sophisticated sources, including closed-circuit camera networks and mobile license plate readers and radiation detectors, as well as law enforcement databases.”
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the wide-spread use by law enforcement of license-plate tracking technologies. The Journal reports Cynthia Lum, professor at George Mason University, as estimating that 37 percent of large law enforcement departments are using license plate readers. She commented that it is “one of the most rapidly diffusing technologies that I’ve ever seen.” The Journal found that over a two year period in California’s Riverside County that the county sheriff had made scans of more than six million license plates.
But privacy advocates and civil libertarians have protested the ramp up in the use of surveillance and identification technologies by law enforcement. The ACLU wrote that “Research demonstrates that video surveillance has no statistically significant effect on crime rates. Several studies on video surveillance have been conducted in the UK, where surveillance cameras are pervasive … and show that video surveillance has no impact on crime whatsoever. If it did, then there would be little crime in London, a city estimated to have about 500,000 cameras.”