When it comes to scary invasions of privacy — or sensible uses of technology to combat crime, take your pick — North Carolina is First in Facial Recognition. The FBI and the state Division of Motor Vehicles have been going over millions of driver's license photos in Raleigh. Computerized facial-recognition technology scans the images and searches for matches — the same nose, mouth or chin — with various suspects.
It amounts, one critic says, to a "virtual lineup." And those in the lineup — everyone with a license — didn't know we were in it.
We do now, thanks to a fine piece of reporting by Mike Baker of The Associated Press. His story noted that facial-recognition software is not new, but "the North Carolina project is the first major step for the FBI as it considers expanding the use of the technology to find fugitives nationwide." So far there's been at least one "hit," a man wanted in two murders whose North Carolina driver's license photo was picked out because in it he resembled the wanted man.
Who, other than the fugitive (who'd changed his name), could object to that?
And what's the difference, other than a huge gain in efficiency, between having a computer scan driver's license photos and having an army of law enforcement agents do it? America is the land of fresh starts, but nothing in the Constitution says you're free to commit a crime in one state, change your name and get a license in another. That's taking the pursuit of happiness too far.
To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.