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Allegheny County Council considers bill regulating facial recognition and other surveillance technologies

A new bill could regulate Allegheny County’s use of facial recognition and other surveillance technology. Legislation introduced to Allegheny County Council Tuesday would require county officials to obtain council’s approval before soliciting, acquiring or using facial recognition or other surveillance technologies, except in extreme circumstances. It would also require a public policy detailing how each technology can be used. “The public use of facial surveillance can chill the exercise of constitutionally protected free speech,” the bill states, also noting the technology is less accurate in identifying the faces of women and people of color. “...The benefits of using face surveillance, which are few and speculative, are greatly outweighed by its harms, which are substantial.” 

Councilwoman at-large Bethany Hallam, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, told PublicSource: “We’re trying to bring transparency and accountability to one of the least transparent and accountable facets of law enforcement, and that’s surveillance.” The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Councilwoman Olivia Bennett whose district includes Downtown, North Side and Bellevue Borough.

Robert Aldred flips through photos on his phone showing injuries sustained when a police dog bit him in June 2017. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Police chase settlement pushes lawsuit payouts beyond $12 million since 2009

PublicSource reviewed the cases because federal court is typically the referee of last resort in disputes between citizens and police. Officials sometimes portray the court as a backstop against other systems’ shortcomings. Scholars of law enforcement, though, view federal court as an uneven playing field on which results have little to do with the severity of a constitutional violation or the injuries caused.

‘If your mom can go in and see it, so can the cops’: How law enforcement is using social media to identify protesters in Pittsburgh

A task force made up of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies has charged 32 people with crimes related to the recent Black Lives Matter protests in Pittsburgh. In a majority of the cases, charging documents show that law enforcement used social media as a tool to identify suspects and gather evidence on alleged crimes. In early June, after protests in Downtown and East Liberty over the death of George Floyd, the City of Pittsburgh created the Damage Assessment and Accountability Task Force [DAAT] to investigate incidents of violence, looting and vandalism at recent protests. DAAT has so far charged 32 people — including several prominent local activists — in a total of 34 cases, with alleged crimes stemming from the protests. The charges range from disorderly conduct and failure to disperse to burglary and weapons of mass destruction.

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Emails show Allegheny County district attorney’s office used trial of controversial facial recognition technology Clearview

“Dystopian” and “'Black Mirror'-esque” are among the ways critics have described Clearview, a facial recognition technology startup founded in 2016. The program’s ability to scrape photos off of the web and instantly aggregate information on just about anyone with an online presence, without their knowledge, has drawn the ire of privacy advocates, Democratic lawmakers and the same social media companies it relies on for data. 

The system has been used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad — including, as newly obtained records show, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office. 

Emails obtained by PublicSource through an open records request show that Clearview trial accounts were linked to email addresses of four employees in the office of District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.: analysts Andrew Colvin, Ted DeAngelis and Norah Xiong, and detective Lyle Graber. The trials started at different times, with emails first referencing a trial on Feb. 7 and last noting a log in on March 17. Three of the employee accounts were signed in to more than once.