NYC Adopts License Plate Readers, Facial Recognition

The measures are aimed at tracking who enters and leaves the city to improve safety.

New York City recently launched initiatives to track drivers and passengers entering and leaving the city, as well as where cabs and ride-hailing services pick up and drop off their customers.

“At each crossing, and at structurally sensitive points on bridges and tunnels, advanced cameras and sensors will be installed to read license plates and test emerging facial recognition software and equipment. These technologies will be applied across airports and transit hubs – including the Penn-Farley Complex – to ultimately develop one system-wide plan,” according to New York State’s website.

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However, these initiatives are not without controversy. Jennifer Lynch, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told CNBC that by combining facial recognition and license plates with other databases, like driver’s licenses or property records, the state could create a dangerously full picture of a person’s life.

“We would hope that if they are expanding their use of face recognition – particularly to something as invasive as real-time face recognition on all drivers entering the city through certain points of entry – that they would very clearly outline how this information can be used, against whom it can be used and what’s done with the information,” says Lynch.

Lynch believes that the faces captured will feed into the New York City Police Department’s “command center.” Inside that center, anti-terror police monitor video from 9,000 surveillance cameras, a daily feed of 3 million license plates from roadside license plate readers and track global terror events.

In 2011, the NYPD began using facial recognition technology that ran through images of unidentified suspects to compare surveillance camera images with criminal databases, Instagram and Facebook.

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