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High-Tech Camera Policing: Is Big Brother's Eye on Us?

Aired August 7, 2001 - 12:30   ET



TERRANCE GAINER, D.C. EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT POLICE CHIEF: These cameras aren't taking pictures of people in vehicle, so who drives it is not particularly important. We're interested in a speeding car that can cause tremendous amounts of damage.

LEON ANDERSON, AAA MIDATLANTIC: If we have such a huge problem, we ought to have a lot more D.C. police officers devoted to giving tickets so that motorists can see it and they begin to understand that if they speed, they will be caught.


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, Big Brother is watching, and he is taking your picture when you speed and when you run a red light. It's a debate that pits individual privacy versus public safety.

Plus, when you walk down a Tampa, Florida, street, smile -- you are being scanned. Are the police going too far to insure safety?

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. I'm in Los Angeles today.

This past July, Tampa, Florida, became the first U.S. city to install cameras to look for criminals on its streets. These cameras, which are linked to high-tech computer software, scan crowds and match faces with a database of mug shots. Law enforcers say this is no different than having a police officer on the street, yet opponents claim Big Brother in intruding upon them.

Joining us are Detectives Bill Todd and Kirby Rainsberger, legal advisers to the Tampa Police Department.

From Miami, we are joined by Randall Marshall, legal director of the ACLU.

In Boston, Tom Colatosti, from viisage communications.

Joining us today also, in Washington, is law professor Cliff Fishman. First, I want to go to you, detective. Why do you need this kind of scanning of the public to fight crime?

BILL TODD, TAMPA POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, we are using this crime prevention tool to alert us to the presence of people that we think we should know about when they are present inside the large crowds we get in the entertainment district.

COSSACK: Well, some people would criticize people are being forced to have their mug shot in a lineup for doing nothing more than walking down the street. People who are in lineups are in lineups because they are suspected of doing something wrong; here are people who are nothing more than citizens just walking down the treat, and suddenly they are in sort of high-tech lineup.

TODD: Well, I don't think it is really a line-up. Lineup doesn't apply. This is no different than a police officer looking at the people walking down the street to determine if it recognizes that to be someone who is wanted or a ordinary runaway child or any other issue the police may have.

COSSACK: How does this exactly work, detective?

TODD: Well, the cameras -- the software grabs the face from the field of view on the camera, and it scans 80 points on that face and creates a mathematical equation, and it compares that to mathematical equations kept in the database.

COSSACK: Tom, this is your technology. You were the one who developed it. Is this what you had in mind when you developed it?

TOM COLATOSTI, VIISAGE TECHNOLOGIES: Well, it certainly isn't. We pioneered and used our technology at the Super Bowl with great success. We think that there's a responsible way of using the technology, and that is to focus it in those areas where there is a high security threat, like we did at the Super Bowl or at airports, embassies -- things of that nature. We also think that it has very many beneficial aspects: to combat identity threat, to use it for ATMs, for keyless entry.

There are a number of positive things that we want to use it for, and of course, we get concerned when we see it being used in the most controversial and least effective applications. So while we are very excited about the technology -- we think we have the best technology on the planet -- we want to make sure it is used responsibly.

COSSACK: Tom, it's called biometric technology. Can you give us a layman's idea of what this is supposed to do?

COLATOSTI: Sure, biometric is any human factor that uniquely identifies you. So your is a biometric, because that's unique to you -- a fingerprint, your voice, the way you walk, DNA, iris, retina, hingeometry (ph). All of those techniques are all part of the field of biometrics, and face is a biometric.

COSSACK: So what this camera does is scans someone's face and takes measurements automatically?

COLATOSTI: What we are able do with our technology is we take 128 measurements of the face -- the distance between the eyes, the thickness of your lips, the slope of your cheeks -- and we measure all of those points and create algorithms in our software, and we store that as a string of numbers in the database. So when you again pass that camera, we would make that match and measure those numbers.

We have customers that have a database with more than 8 million images in it, and we can find an image in less than 15 seconds in a database that size -- and no one else can do that.

COSSACK: Let me make sure I have this straight for our viewers. I'm walking down the street in Tampa, Florida. A camera takes a picture of me. Within several seconds -- perhaps even less than 10 seconds -- it automatically comes up with different points about my face, how I look, and it's able to compare it to a database, to see whether or not my face matches the face of someone who may be wanted for a crime. Is this how this works?

COLATOSTI: Well, what I indicated was that if I have a database with 8 million images, I can do it in less than 15 seconds. At the Super Bowl, we actually had about 100,000 people; we were doing it in less than a second. So we can match your face with face in the database in less than a second.

COSSACK: Kirby, as the legal adviser for the police department, aren't you worried a little bit about perhaps some lawsuits that could flow from this about mistakes?

KIRBY RAINSBERGER, LEGAL ADVISER, TAMPA POLICE DEPARTMENT: The key phrase, of course, is expectation of privacy, and no, I'm not worried about lawsuits, generally, from people who are on the street and are merely scanned by this software.

As for false positives, yes, I would be concerned if the way we contacted those people essentially amounted to taking them off the street on the basis simply of the software; that's not the case. When we contact those people, the officer on scene will verify through traditional methods whether or not the person identified by the software is precisely the person wanted on the warrant or wanted by authorities for other reasons.

COSSACK: Kirby, let me give you a hypothetical. Let's say that the machine scans me and comes up with fact that I'm a wanted person. A police officer comes up to me and asks me for some ID. I give him my ID, and my ID isn't the person that they are looking for. Are you telling that the police officer's going to say, Sorry, we have a little problem, our machine made a mistake, be happy on your way.

RAINSBERGER: Yes, I am. There are other methods, on a case-by- case basis, that an officer might utilize to determine precisely who you are and to confirm who you are. But the stop will be a matter of minutes, and if your identification is good and is verifiable, yes, you will be on your way in that quick a period of time, no harm done, with any luck at all. COSSACK: Detective, is the scanning foolproof. What happens if someone is wearing sunglasses and the camera is unable to measure the distance between their eyes?

TODD: That's an excellent point. While we're not using Tom's software, the biometric software measures different points on the face, not just the eyes. I think it is important to point out -- you carry on the conversation you and Kirby were just having -- before anybody is stopped, after the software gives an alert, a police officer looks at the two images and makes an independent determination personally whether or not that is, in fact, the person that we are seeking.

COSSACK: Let me call in Randall Marshall from the ACLU.

Randall, isn't this just a tool to help get wanted criminals off the street? Isn't this one step further than the pictures on the post office wall?

RANDALL MARSHALL, LEGAL DIRECTOR, FLORIDA ACLU: This is many steps further. What this is is the allowing of technology to dictate what our concept of privacy is, instead of allowing it the other way around.

This truly is a matter of more than a police officer standing on a street corner looking at images; it is subjecting law-abiding citizens who are doing nothing more than legally walking down a street to a digital lineup on a daily basis.

COSSACK: What is wrong with that? What privacy is invaded by that? Certainly, we don't know that we are being watched. No one stops us. We don't have to stop and talk to anyone.

MARSHALL: A number of things are going to happen. Number one is individuals are going to be stopped, because the confidence level that they have entered in, 80 percent, is going to trigger that, and there are going to be false positives. Police officers are going to look at that, and they are going to go out and stop and detain people. At that point, when the police officers are using the technology to form the basis for a stop that they otherwise wouldn't be able to do, we have problems.

COSSACK: Are you saying that this wouldn't amount to probable cause to stop someone?

MARSHALL: Absolutely not. We don't believe it does. It's putting the cart before the horse. A similar situation, although I understand there's a difference between an individual's home walking down the street, the Supreme Court, just this last term, held that using a thermal imaging device to detect levels of heat coming outside of a house is a search in and of itself and cannot form the basis to have probable cause to get a search warrant.

COSSACK: Let's take a break. We will talk next about what is happening on the streets of Washington, D.C., whether or not Big Brother's watching there, because if they are, you'd better think twice before you step on your gas. Stay with us.


The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that firearms manufactures cannot be held liable for the criminal use of their weapons.



COSSACK: Well, the Washington D.C. Police Department started another phase of its photo-enforcement program yesterday, this time to catch speeders. Police cruisers will roam speed-enforcement zones across the city. The cruisers are equipped with a camera that aims a radar beam across the street and snaps picture of your car if you travel at our above a threshold speed.

Now when the speed cameras were tested last month, nearly 30 percent of drivers were caught driving eleven miles per hour or more over the speed limit. But critics have raised an important legal question, are these law enforcement efforts infringing upon the individual rights of citizens?

Joining us today in Washington is law professor Cliff Fishman, and executive assistant police chief for the Metropolitan D.C. Police Department, Terrance Gainer.

Chief Gainer, thank you for joining us. I can't tell you how delighted I am. I happen to be one of those people who was caught by your camera going through a red light.

GAINER: We finally got you.

COSSACK: That's exactly right, you caught me.

I want to ask you this question, sir, is this a revenue-raising way -- is this just a way of raising money in the city, the District of Columbia, or is clearly meant to deter people?

GAINER: Well, not from my perspective is it about money, but clearly money is going to be made by the city and by the manufacturer of this.

But our red light running and speed cameras are really meant to save lives. And our red light cameras reduce fatalities by some 75 percent and reduce offenses by 50 percent, and we hope to do the same thing with speeding.

COSSACK: Well, here's what happens, as you know, on these red lights, when you get citation in the mail, they give you a couple of options. One of the options is that you can go fight it, but another one of the options is that you can just pay this ticket, and you won't have any points put against your driving record, and all us drivers know it is not the fine that gets you, it's the point that gets you, because that's when the insurance company calls you up and says your rates are going up. Now why wouldn't I get points for running a red light caught by camera, where I would have gotten points if I was caught by a patrolman.

GAINER: I think it's a compromise in the legislation that was enacted to us do this. Frankly, I would like to see points. I think one of the other options you didn't mention is that you can go to court and fight this thing. So you have the same options whether a police officer gives you a ticket, or a camera does. And frankly, most people are paying, 90 percent paying, because the proof is in the photograph.

COSSACK: Well, I would think also most people are paying because it is a lot easier to pay than get those points. But the other part of it is, is that I've always understood this, chief, that deterrents comes from marked police vehicles. I mean, that's you why don't speed in front of a police officer, because it is the fear of getting caught. That's why neighborhood watches work, it's because it's the fear of getting caught. When you have those cameras up, really they're very unobtrusive, how does that deter anyone?

GAINER: Well, first off, the cameras are well marked and everybody knows where they're at. But we're talking about people that ought to be self-actualized in policing themselves. Why doesn't an adult like you, a self-admitted violator have to have anybody else say I have to have a police officer watch what I do. Driving is a privilege. When you take your license, you agree to abide by the rules, and if you abide by the rules, neither a police officer nor a camera will ever bother you.

COSSACK: But isn't what happens in this it is not necessarily me that got the ticket, as you pointed out, no one really knows who was driving the car. You don't know whether I drove the car that day, although I admitted on it television; you've got me on that one. But in fact it was the car that went through the light. And in fact, that's pretty much why you are willing to just take those fines and have the car, in the sense, be the violator.

GAINER: Again, it is compromise I think, it minimizes the invasion of who is in the car. Clearly, the criticism of this is that police are going to take picture of people in the car, and that may be more of a privacy invasion than the general assembly was willing to tolerate, so this just fines the vehicle, and the owner of the vehicle, and you have the opportunity to contest that.

I mean, If we keep that in perspective, there are just too many people dying, and the property damage from car crashes is much too high. This is just another tool. And I don't think we should get into the gamesmanship, that I only want to get caught if it's a policeman who walks up to me. Drive safely, and there'll be no problem.

COSSACK: There's no gamesmanship, but, police chief, I don't want to get caught at all.

GAINER: Don't speed or go through the light then.

COSSACK: OK. Cliff, what about regulations on this? Should there be regulations on what the police are doing?

CLIFF FISHMAN, LAW PROFESSOR: Right now, the law has absolutely nothing to say either about what was going on in Tampa, or what the police department is doing up here. The Supreme Court has said that what we knowingly expose to the public simply is not protected by the Constitution. Movement through the street, rather on foot or in a car, are not protected by the Fourth Amendment at all. So police don't need probable cause, they don't need a warrant, they don't need reasonable suspicion, and they don't need anybody's permission, to use either the face recognition technology or the cameras to catch red light runners or speeders.

The question whether or not we should allow this free use of equipment by the police, as you pointed out, raises interesting questions. We want to improve traffic safety, and yet it does somehow invade a sense of privacy that we like to think we have, even though right now the law says we don't have. So perhaps this is something that professors of law and legislators should look at, and see whether or not an appropriate compromise can be struck between technological advances that could help the police make us safer, but also give us that feeling that our privacy is being trampled on.

COSSACK: You know, the chief makes an interesting argument, when he says, look, driving isn't a right, there's nowhere in the Constitution says you have the right to drive a car, it's a privilege, a privilege that each state or each jurisdiction allows to you have. If it's a privilege, then in fact, couldn't these cameras be put in place, and say, look, you don't have to do this, this a privilege, this is the way we describe it.

FISHMAN: That theory tends to work better in Europe than it does here, and the reason is that here we tend to be more individual. We believe individualism, and that even includes the right to bend the law here and there. People didn't jaywalk this Europe. They do in certainly every big city I have ever been in in the United States. It's just The sense of being an American means the law is not going to be looking over my shoulder all the time, and so I'm allowed to get away with bending the law here and there. Now, what to me is bending the law to the chief is endangering the lives of others, so obviously, there are legitimate points view of on both sides of the question. Right now, the law agrees with the chief.

COSSACK: All right.

Chief, one final question to you then. We are going to be having these cars roaming the streets of the District of Columbia with cameras. Are those going to marked cars?

GAINER: They do have signs on them. They're not striped cars, but the signs on the car indicates they are doing that, because we are trying to be a bit superstitious. We've named the 60 spots in the city that we've picked because of fatalities, crashes, community input, speeding, schools, park districts, and those are areas that you should slow down, and don't even bend the law.

COSSACK: Chief, how many miles over the speed limit will you be given tickets?

GAINER: Well, we're not going to nickel and dime you. We don't try to advertise that you have a little leeway. I think everybody is aware of that. But when you get 10, 11, 12 miles over in a school zone, I think it's responsible for us to try to slow you down. I don't think you have any right ore privilege to run over one of our kids.

COSSACK: Thanks for joining us, chief Gainer.

Let's take a break.

Seventeen years after "1984," technology and the law cross at an Orwellian intersection. Where are we going to be 17 years from now?

Stay with us.



QUESTION: Which college basketball coach is being sued for negligence for a 1999 hunting accident in which someone was wounded?

ANSWER: Bob Knight, the incoming coach for Texas Tech University.


COSSACK: More than 50 communities in 10 states and the District of Columbia have started to use technology to implement traffic laws. And several European cities are using the face-printing system like that of Tampa. So are we heading towards an Orwellian society, or is technology making our lives safer?

Well, Tom, you know, we mentioned "1984," 17 years ago, what about 17 years from now? You created this technology. What do we have to look forward to?

COLASTOSTI: Well, we hope we want to do it in a responsible way. What we would say when one goes into an airport, one has the reasonable expectation their luggage would be searched, because that adds to security. One is walk down street one doesn't expect same level of scrutiny, and so we have really been steadfast about thought wanting to pursue opportunities in Tampa and Virginia Beach, and other places. And we think that we only operate both politicians and business on the goodwill of the people, and when 70 percent of the citizens say they feel this is intrusive, we didn't think that's good politics, let alone good business. Some legislation is in order. I think good, common business sense is going to help drive to us do the right thing.

COSSACK: Randall Marshall, you know, we talk about invasion of privacy, and we talk about our rights being violated, but it's hard to articulate exactly what rights are being violated, if any, and what rights are being violated. We just don't feel good about this. MARSHALL: Well, I think there are some articulable rights here, and one would be, in the words of the Florida constitution, the right to be left alone by government when you're not engaged in anything improper. One can easily see where this technology can head. The city of Tampa is telling us trust us, trust us, if we don't match, we discard your image. But it's a short easy thing to do to create a massive database of everybody who walks on the streets.

COSSACK: Bill, Detective Todd, what about that? I mean, obviously, you've heard these kinds of complaints, people are concerned about it. What kind of guarantees do you have?

I'm sorry, Detective Todd is gone. I'm sorry. Let me then talk to Cliff.

Cliff, What about your feelings, in terms that kind of regulation we can expect?

FISHMAN: I think what we need is to work out a series of regulations that require the decision to use particular equipment at least to be made by a high-level official in the police department or a prosecutor's office, not leave it up to individual police officers. I think we should realize this technology will be available to private industry as well. I think our -- we have more to fear about our privacy from private corporations using this equipment to gather our data us, frankly, than I think we need the government. Private industry has much broader budgets, has much greater use for the sort of information we can use to market our data to other people.

I think we need to have Congress to begin to explore how the equipment like this can be used, that law enforcement has the tools it needs in the situations where it is really called for, but to make sure that it's use is regulated so it doesn't just become another toy for police officers eager to play with their toys to use. I don't mean that pejoratively; police officers have a hard job. But let's face it, you get new equipment, the urge is to use it, and to push the envelope about where and how it's being used. And some of the problems Marshall was talking about can occur.

COSSACK: That's all the time we have today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching. Today on "TALKBACK LIVE": a new poll that shows that the O.J. verdict still continues to divide America by race. Why does it still divide us? E-mail, call or fax your thoughts to Bobbie Battista, and tune in at today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

And join me again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. I'll see you then.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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