If you’re a criminal, a runaway or a terrorist, a day at the beach here may soon be anything but that.
The city will become the second in the nation—Tampa, Fla., is the other—to employ facial-recognition software to assist police in identifying and catching criminals and missing persons.
The system is to be tested along the city’s oceanfront resort strip this holiday weekend, and police hope to have it fully operational in two to three weeks.
“We’re adding to our ability to prevent crime and keep Virginia Beach safe,” Deputy Police Chief Gregory Mullen said Wednesday.
Critics say the software is inaccurate and an invasion of privacy.
“This is a Big Brother contraption,” said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (news—web sites) of Virginia. “It is a device that allows the police to take pictures of citizens who are doing nothing wrong while they’re in a public place.”
A board made up of members of minority organizations, civic leagues and the Virginia Beach Hotel/Motel Association helped create guidelines for using the system and will conduct unannounced audits.
The city has used 10 closed-circuit TV cameras to watch the Oceanfront since 1993, largely to check traffic and observe crowds. Under the new system, three additional cameras will be used to scan a four-block area and feed images to police station monitors.
The software will create a “map” of 80 distinctive points on the face, such as the distance between features. The system will issue an alert if at least 14 points on a face picked up by a camera match those on a face in a database of mugshots.
If an officer monitoring the computer screen decides the faces look similar, the officer will radio an officer on the street to verify the match in person and take further action.
In Virginia Beach’s test, the database will contain about 600 photos of people with outstanding felony warrants as well as volunteers.
The database eventually will contain thousands of mugshots of people wanted for felonies and violent misdemeanors, missing persons and runaways, and people on the FBI terrorist watch list.
Advisory board member Cornell Fuller said he is confident the system contains enough safeguards to prevent abuse.
“If you go to the ocean I don’t think you should have an expectation of privacy,” said Fuller. “You give up part of your privacy when you venture out into the public domain.”
Some tourists walking along the resort strip Wednesday said they think the system is a good idea.
“It’s for our protection. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about,” said Bonnie Satterlee, 39, of Johnstown, Penn.