Facial Recognition in North Carolina: What You Should Know

Facial recognition, the technology that allows a person to be identified by matching a picture or video of his face to a database of photos and videos, is a hot new technology. It has been introduced everywhere from airports, where you can board a flight without having to scan your boarding pass, to your phone that can be unlocked without the touch of a button, to police departments who can use the technology to find suspects and make arrests. 

The technology is so new that the laws surrounding its use are constantly evolving. Can police in North Carolina use facial recognition to make an arrest? The answer is not so straightforward, as it depends on which municipality or city you’re in and what type of facial recognition is used. Here’s what you need to know about facial recognition in North Carolina. 

Police Departments Have Recently Cut Back on Using Facial Recognition Technology

Whether and how police in North Carolina can use facial recognition software depends on the city; however, big steps were taken to protect privacy rights in February 2020 when the Raleigh police department announced that it had stopped using a facial recognition app. Privacy concerns were raised after the department began to use an app that collected pictures from social media sites to use to identify suspects. 

While the Raleigh Police Department stated that any information that was collected using this app was corroborated by other evidence, it decided that the privacy concerns of its citizens outweighed the benefits of the app at this time and that the Department was in the process of reviewing its facial recognition policy. 

As of February 2020, another major police department in North Carolina, the Durham Police Department, stated that it does not use any form of facial recognition technology. 

The Police DO Use the DMV’s Facial Recognition

Even if a police department does not use facial recognition technology itself, police departments in North Carolina do send photos of suspects to the DMV, which does use facial recognition technology.

Police departments will send photos of suspects to the North Carolina DMV, which uses its technology to find a match in its license database. The DMV lets the police know if it has found a match, but does so with the caveat that the accuracy is not guaranteed. Whether or not the police need independent corroboration to make an arrest based on the DMV’s information is to be determined. 

The FBI Can Use Facial Recognition to Access North Carolina Records, Too 

The FBI has a unit called the Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation (FACE) Services Unit, which runs facial recognition searches of a state’s database of driver’s licenses, ID Photos, and mug shots – if the state allows this. North Carolina is one of the states in the country that does allow the FBI access to its citizen’s information using this technology. 

While this does not impact any sort of North Carolina criminal charge (such as a DWI or traffic violation), it does impact federal charges (including drug crimes that could be charged as a federal offense depending on the circumstances) or other investigations of North Carolina citizens by the FBI. It is just one more example of how law enforcement can use facial recognition technology to access your personal information in North Carolina. 

What Do These Changing Laws Mean for You?

While its use is banned in some places and under certain circumstances, law enforcement in North Carolina can and does use facial recognition technology to locate and arrest criminal suspects. If you have been charged with a crime in North Carolina and the evidence against you was corroborated using facial recognition technology, call me. I keep up with the constantly evolving laws surrounding facial recognition technology and will fight to protect your privacy rights.