An exclusive report from OneZero has revealed that some police departments in the United States are looking to deploy Wolfcom real-time facial recognition software in their body cams. The company, which originally and ironically started as a spy equipment shop in California, is reportedly offering facial recognition technology for its Halo gear, which is a body camera model.
In fact, one police department has already started using the software. On March 4, Los Lunas Police Department began running a beta version of the software, OneZero reports, while emails sent in 2019 and obtained by the outlet show that Wolfcom reached out to police departments in New Mexico and Bakersfield, California, as well.
Software shrouded in mystery — The risks posed by such a surveillance measure are enormous. And Wolfcom's silence on the matter, as OneZero points out, is the exact opposite of reassuring. The company has yet to answer questions about the robustness of its software's algorithm, where and who it is licensed it from, how accurate it is, or even which databases and watchlists it consults to match live security footage with.
In 2019, Wolfcom founder Peter Austin Onruang sent an email to the Noble Police Department in Oklahoma, strongly praising his real-time facial recognition software, noting that it could "help them identify if the person they are talking to is a wanted suspect, a missing child or adult, or a person of interest." In a photo obtained by OneZero, Wolfcom showed this as a demonstration of its creepy program:
Bad idea — These concerns about people's privacy and safety aren't overblown. They're based on existing proof of how real-time facial recognition frequently backfires and hurts innocent people. In Buenos Aires, this technology has inaccurately registered harmless citizens as miscreants on the loose, leading to baseless arrests. In other instances, similar software has placed individuals on fugitive-level lists for minor crimes like theft.
None of these problems and potential violation of people's privacy, however, have stopped Wolfcom from going forward with its plan or given police departments like that in Los Lunas reason to pause and reflect. The nightmarish and dystopian surveillance show will go on.