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Facial recognition technology already used in Maine

Technology to recognize facial features is being used in Maine, but how it can be used might change.

PORTLAND, Maine — As Portland City Council mulls over whether to ban facial recognition technology in the city, residents are starting to realize this technology is already here.

The new REAL IDs issued at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles image and process birth certificates, passports, and ID pictures. The state stores the information on secured servers not connected to the internet. The pictures contain facial recognition technology, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

In 2012, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office introduced software to aid investigators. With a smartphone or digital camera, members of the sheriff's department could take a person's picture and run it through the Cumberland County Jail's database. 

"What we didn't realize was some of the angles the local stores or banks had and the fact that the technology was not good enough, not robust enough, to identify a person from an angle," said Sheriff Kevin Joyce. "Much like electronic fingerprinting. It does serve its purpose and our job is to work within the parameters of the constitution, protect everyone's rights, including the criminals and do our job."

Joyce says they no longer use this software because it didn't meet the department's needs. In five years, CCSO had one successful case involving facial recognition technology. The funding will now go towards other priorities.

Civil liberty advocates want to make sure new technology doesn't mask constitutional freedoms. State Sen. Shenna Bellows (D-Kennebec) says racial and gender biases, among other issues, are concerning.

“The technology has advanced far faster than public policy," said Bellows. "Until we have protocols and procedures on how the technology should be used, especially by law enforcement, where, who owns the video that’ is collected and how that’s deployed on the people, in line with the Constitution and Bill of Rights, a moratorium is definitely worth considering.”

Joyce believes local departments and officials can generate policies without being handcuffed by the state. 

"It has to be used ethically. It has to be used with verification," said Joyce. "It's not the end-all-be-all... you have to do some work beyond that, but it's a tool."

Paul Bradbury, the executive director of the Portland Jetport, tells NEWS CENTER Maine facial recognition technology is not being used inside the building. Bradbury says Delta and Jetblue are airlines that use it, but not in Portland. Customs and Border Patrol might use facial recognition technology during some General Aviation flights, such as private charters or cargo flights away from the Jetport terminal, according to Bradbury.

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