Press-Republican

FYI...

June 18, 2013

State photo-ID databases become troves for police

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

"It's a fine line where you need to protect the rights of the citizens, but you also are protecting the right of citizens when you ferret out crime," said Anthony Silva, administrator of Rhode Island's Division of Motor Vehicles and a former town police chief.

Establishing identity, Silva said, is essential to effective police work: "I can't tell you how many times I was handed fraudulent documents. And when you are on the street at 3 a.m., who do you call?"

Pennsylvania's Justice Network, which has allowed police anywhere in the state to compare a facial image with mug-shot databases, has become a key investigative tool, officials said, and last month it added access to 34 million driver's-license photos. (Some residents have several images, taken over years.)

A detective in Carlisle, Pa., attempting to learn the real name of a suspect known on the street as "Buddha the Shoota" compared a Facebook page picturing the man with the mug-shot database and got a promising lead.

"Facebook is a great source for us," said Detective Daniel Freedman, who can do facial searches from his department-issued smartphone. "He was surprised when we walked in and said, 'How you doin', Buddha?' "

He said the suspect responded, "How you know that?" — to which Freedman replied simply, "We're the police."

There typically is little concern when facial-recognition systems relying on criminal databases help identify suspects in narrowly targeted investigations. But searches against images of citizens from driver's licenses or passports, as opposed to mug shots of prisoners, raise more complex legal questions.

Police typically need only to assert a law enforcement purpose for facial searches, whether they be of suspects or potential witnesses to crimes. Civil libertarians worry that this can lead to broadly defined identity sweeps. Already many common but technically illegal activities — blocking a sidewalk, cycling at night without a light or walking a dog without a leash — can trigger police stops and requests for identification, they say.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
FYI...
  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 23, 2014

  • Why it's basically impossible to delete those naked selfies you text

    If you're selling an old Android smartphone on an online auction site, you could be giving away rather more than you intend to, according to a recent investigation by anti-malware company Avast.

    July 21, 2014

  • Why does the Vatican need a bank?

    The Vatican Bank's history reads more like Dan Brown than the financial pages, but its worst -- and weirdest -- days may be behind it.

    July 18, 2014

  • Almost half of the world actually prefers instant coffee

    Americans' taste in coffee might be getting more high-end _with a growing fixation on perfectly roasted beans, pricier caffeinated concoctions, and artisan coffee brewers - but it turns out a surprisingly big part of the world is going in the opposite direction: toward instant coffee.

    July 17, 2014

  • ent_taylorswift.jpg There's less good music now — here's why

    Taylor Swift, the seven-time Grammy winner, is known for her articulate lyrics, so there was nothing surprising about her writing a long column for The Wall Street Journal about the future of the music industry. Yet there's reason to doubt the optimism of what she had to say.

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can plants hear? Study finds that vibrations prompt some to boost their defenses

    They have no specialized structure to perceive sound as we do, but a new study has found that plants can discern the sound of predators through tiny vibrations of their leaves - and beef up their defenses in response.

    July 12, 2014

  • wheat1.jpg Backlash has begun against gluten-free dieters

    The swelling ranks of Americans adopting gluten-free diets have given rise to another hot trend: people calling the whole thing a bunch of baloney.

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 140516-recalls_1357_88cb85dbc81b724b4ae9c83db4426fd8.jpg Auto recalls break single-year US record with six months to go

    With six months left in 2014, automakers have already recalled more vehicles in the United States than in any other year on record.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • The science of shyness

    Shy people have quite a bit to contend with - not least the word itself. It has a number of different meanings, none of which are flattering. To "shy away" from something implies avoidance; to "shy" can also mean to move suddenly in fright; to "be shy of" something can mean to come up short, or be insufficient.

    July 8, 2014

  • Wanna write a pop song? Here's a foolproof equation

    Pop songs (generally) stay in one key, are in 4/4 time, last between three and five minutes, are organized into chunks of four or eight bars, have a repeating chorus played two to four times, include the title sung at least three times, and feature short melodic fragments that repeat a lot to help everyone to remember them.

    July 7, 2014