The Maine State Police are proud of our history of service to Maine people, and we value our relationships with the citizens and communities we are fortunate to serve. Those relationships are critical to earning the support, respect, and trust of the public that is central to our success. That is why, in the wake of a recent Maine Sunday Telegram story, we believe it is important that the public understand our philosophy and specific activities regarding new technologies, information gathering and investigative techniques.
Often the very technology that keeps us connected, keeps us safe, and makes our lives easier also creates questions and a natural anxiety about our personal privacies. Take ‘facial recognition’ for example. This refers generally to the hardware and software algorithms that examine facial features and match these to known photos. This is the same technology that can open a mobile device or an app, unlock a door, and connect friends on social media.
When it comes to law enforcement, agencies typically use this technology as an investigative tool in the aftermath of a crime. For example, a digital image or video of a crime obtained from a home video security system or commercial video alarm system may help identify a suspect. This process of gathering and using digital evidence is just like recovering a fingerprint or DNA at a crime scene. The use of this technology in these cases is simply another tool in addition to the common practice of publicly releasing the digital image on TV or social media to enlist help from the public. We believe that the public expects that the police have the ability and resources to take a digital image – or forensic evidence – from a crime scene and identify the suspect that broke into their home, stole their property, or injured their loved ones.
It is important, however to clearly distinguish Maine law enforcement’s use of this technology from the practice of ‘surveillance’, ‘spying’, or generally gathering information such as video or photos in public places in order to ‘track’ or monitor the activities of people not suspected of crimes. In the wake of the Maine Sunday Telegram report, we thought it was important to let you know what the Maine State Police does and does not do:
- The State Police does not own or operate facial recognition technology;
- The State Police has requested facial recognition technology assistance from other agencies out of state to assist reactively with ongoing criminal investigations;
- The State Police does operate the Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC), the State’s designated fusion center. This center serves an important function for Maine’s public and private sectors;
- The State Police (including the MIAC) does not utilize facial recognition technology to conduct ‘surveillance’, ‘spying’, tracking or monitoring of the general public or individuals not suspected of criminal activity; and
- The State Police does routinely test and evaluate new tools and technologies to determine their effectiveness, appropriateness, and relevancy as we work to keep abreast of new technologies and techniques that may help us accomplish our mission effectively and efficiently. An example of this testing process is the participation of the State Bureau of Identification in a federal facial recognition trial that began sporadically in December 2015 and ended prior to September 2018. The involvement of the Maine State Police was limited to comparing a small number of photos with publicly-available mugshots. This test gave us a better understanding of future possible uses and limitations of this technology to investigate crime.
In closing, we are all trying to understand and evaluate the potential value and efficiencies that technology may offer, as well as the risks and concerns that may follow. We believe that the key to minimizing these risks is in finding a responsible balance of privacy and security. Over the years we have been active participants along with the legislature, prosecutors and other stakeholders in helping craft statute and sound policy for Maine on a number of privacy issues.
We look forward to continuing these efforts to establish sound, reasonable policy for Maine because we live in the communities that we serve and share the same interest in making our state a better place to live and work.
Commissioner Michael J. Sauschuck
Maine Department of Public Safety
45 COMMERCE DRIVE, SUITE 1, 104 STATE HOUSE STATION, AUGUSTA, ME 04333-0104
TEL: (207) 626-3805 | TTY: (888) 524-7900 | FAX: (207) 287-3042
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