Masked protesters fight face scans
By LINDA GIBSON
Revised July 16, 2001
© St. Petersburg Times,
Garvey, of Lutz, was one of 100 or more protesters who donned masks, bandanas, Groucho Marx glasses and other face-obscuring gear to show their displeasure Saturday night with the Face-It scanning system police use in Ybor City.
The 36 cameras linked with a software program compare faces of people walking along Seventh Avenue to a data base of mug shots of wanted felons and missing children.
May Becker, 29, a doctorate candidate in marine biology at the University of South Florida, wore a bar-code sticker on her forehead and carried a sign: "We're under house arrest in the land of the free."
"Being watched on a public street is just plain wrong," Becker said. "We shouldn't be treated as criminals."
The protest was organized by the Tampa Bay Action Group, a consortium of various church and activist organizations. Led by a man banging a bongo drum and encouraged by shouts through a bullhorn, protesters marched past the cameras.
One man held up the classic, one-fingered sign of disrespect and yelled, "Digitize this!"
If a match pops up between a mug shot and a face on a camera, officers can be sent to make an arrest. But so far, no arrests have been made from a match in the system, police spokesman Joe Durkin said Saturday night.
The use of cameras and face-scanning software has caused controversy since Tampa police used it to scan the Super Bowl crowd at Raymond James Stadium in January.
More than 100,000 people at stadium events that week unknowingly were part of virtual lineups, as their faces were compared to mug shots of con artists and terrorists. Police made no arrests as a result of the technology.
Tampa's crime-fighting approach at the Super Bowl attracted a lot of criticism nationwide.
But two months ago, the City Council approved a one-year trial period of the $30,000 technology in Ybor City. The city won't have to pay for it unless it chooses to keep it.
"It's a worthwhile experiment," Councilman Bob Buckhorn said Saturday evening. He has received 30 e-mails opposing the use of the technology, but said 25 of those were from people outside of Florida.
Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena said Saturday that she had asked that the face-scanning system be put on the agenda for the council's next meeting, on Thursday.
She questioned whether the system was a response to a problem or just a fishing expedition.
"I don't think we should be using these cameras in the way we are," she said.
- Linda Gibson can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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