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    Ybor's eyes an invasion, U.S House leader says

    U.S. Rep. Dick Armey says Tampa has gone too far with its use of face scanning cameras in Ybor City.

    By ANGELA MOORE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 3, 2001


    TAMPA -- Local politicians haven't had much to say about the controversial face-recognition cameras installed in Ybor City, but a powerful conservative lawmaker in Washington is paying attention.

    House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, issued a statement Monday rebuking Tampa's use of the software, which scans faces in public crowds and tries to match them with criminal mug shots in its data base. Tampa is the first Florida city to use the software, which civil libertarians have decried as an invasion of privacy.

    And now, one of the most powerful Republicans in the country agrees.

    "This is a full-scale surveillance system," Armey said in the statement. "Do we really want a society where one cannot walk down the street without Big Brother tracking our every move?

    "We gave away our privacy in allowing red light and photo radar cameras to take the place of police on our streets. Now Tampa has taken the next step, and there's nowhere to turn for those who value their privacy."

    Tampa first tested the software in January at the Super Bowl, a move that sparked complaints and national attention. But starting last week, Tampa police began using the $30,000 software every day in Ybor City to identify sexual offenders and wanted criminals. The program is free for one year while the department tries it out.

    If the computer determines that there's an 85 percent chance a person may be a wanted criminal, a police officer approaches that person and asks for identification. The computer is not always right.

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