But it is also a powerful and efficient tool that, much like DNA analysis, offers a way to bring policing into the modern age and help catch wrongdoers or solve crimes that have gone cold.
It has been used to arrest men accused of child sex abuse, including a fugitive who had fled to Nepal and a man in Oklahoma who had been at large for two decades. It has helped nab a trio of jewel thief suspects and people who the authorities said were trying to enter the country under fake names.
It is difficult to say exactly how many of the nation’s 18,000 police departments use facial recognition or how they deploy it. Some departments have been caught using it without the public’s knowledge, or to search crowds of protesters for people with outstanding warrants.
But since the San Francisco ban, several agencies have come forward to argue that it is counterproductive to forbid any use of what they call a valuable tool that generates investigative leads.
Some departments, including the New York Police Department, have policies that say that a possible match found by facial recognition does not constitute an identification or probable cause for an arrest.
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