This report was co-written by MuckRock Editor JPat Brown. MuckRock Co-founder Michael Morisy, MuckRock Intern Lukas Knight, and EFF Activism Intern Annelyse Gelman also contributed to this report. Another version appears at MuckRock.com.
Law enforcement agencies around the country are increasingly embracing biometric technology, which uses intrinsic physical or behavioral characteristics—such as fingerprints, facial features, irises, tattoos, or DNA—to identify people, sometimes even instantly. Just as the technology that powers your cell phone has shrunk both in size and cost, mobile biometric technologies are now being deployed more widely and cheaply than ever before—and with less oversight.
EFF and MuckRock News teamed up in August to reveal how state and local law enforcement agencies are using mobile biometric technology in the field by filing public records requests around the country. With the help of members of the public who nominated jurisdictions for investigation, we have now obtained thousands of pages of documents from more than 30 agencies.
Mobile biometric technology includes mobile devices and apps that police use to capture and analyze a person’s physical features in the field and submit that information to a central database for matching. Ostensibly, police deploy this technology as a means to confirm the identity of someone during a stop. However, the technology can be used to capture people’s biometric data and add it to biometric databases, regardless of whether their identity is in question.
Because of the volume of records we’ve received so far (the documents continue to flow in faster than EFF and MuckRock’s teams can read through them), we’re starting with California. Nine of the agencies have responded to our requests with documents, while many more claimed they didn’t have any records.
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