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A look at the facial recognition software that identified Capital Gazette shooter suspect

The facial recognition system used to identify the shooting suspect, known as the Maryland Image Repository System, is a computer software and database that contains not only state and federal mug shots, but also driver’s license photos from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. (iStock/Thinkstock)

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — When police in Anne Arundel County identified the man accused of killing five people at the Capital Gazette newsroom, they turned to a controversial facial recognition system in Maryland.

Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare said it would have taken much longer to identify the alleged shooter, Jarrod Ramos, 38, had the system not been used.

Ramos is accused of opening fire at the paper last Thursday, killing five Capital Gazette employees.

Known as the Maryland Image Repository System, the computer software and database contains not only state and federal mug shots, but also driver’s license photos from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

According to a study based on a yearlong investigation by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology, the system received little attention when it was put into place back 2011. Researchers believe when images from all sources are combined, investigators have access to more than 30 million photos.

The report found that the system is also available to investigators outside of Maryland.

Once granted access, police can upload a photo of the face of person they are trying to identify. That photo is then compared to the millions of photos in the system based on the characteristics of the person’s face.

According to the report, it’s unclear if mug shots uploaded to the system are “scrubbed” if that person was never charged, found innocent or had the case against them dropped.

Baltimore Police confirmed to the Baltimore Sun that it used the system when searching for suspects involved in the rioting that happened after the death of Freddie Gray.

The system has raised privacy concerns in the past with the American Civil Liberties Union calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the use of the program.


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