The day after the deadly shooting left five people dead in the newsroom at Capital Gazette, a seemingly unusual fact has emerged about how police identified their suspect.
After he was in police custody, Ramos refused to cooperate with authorities. He at first evaded identification when the fingerprint scanning machine malfunctioned, causing police to speculate that he’d filed off his fingerprints prior to the attack. With an uncooperative suspect and malfunctioning fingerprint machine, investigators were left to use other methods to ID him.
Local police sent an image of Ramos to the Maryland Combined Analysis Center, Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare told reporters, which then compared the image to photos of known offenders contained in the Maryland Image Repository System (MIRS) database. MIRS contains more than ten million photos, including those of known offenders and every driver’s license photo in Maryland. It can also access the mug shot database maintained by the FBI, which contains some 25 million faces.
Ramos had previously been convicted of harassment and was likely present in the database.
MIRS photos have helped Maryland authorities identify criminals in the past. A robbery suspect was caught after police compared an Instagram photo to the state DMV database, which linked them to the suspect. Facial recognition is also used at DMVs around the country, reports The Verge, to minimize ID fraud and duplicates.
Catching and identifying criminals is obviously essential but if you’re worried about the connection between facial recognition technology and the steady creep of surveillance into every aspect of our society, you’re not alone. Privacy advocates have challenged this use of facial recognition, calling it a threat to civil liberties. One concern is that, although authorities are instructed to remove the photos of people who’ve been arrested but found innocent, systems like MIRS aren’t often inspected to ensure that’s the case.
Facial recognition technology has been in the news lately after the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that police departments were testing Amazon’s facial recognition software in the field.