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MTA’s facial recognition tech fails test; commuters concerned

Posted: 6:12 PM, Apr 08, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-08 18:12:17-04

A Metropolitan Transit Authority pilot program in which facial recognition technology captures New Yorkers as they drive has failed, according to a new report.

Billed as a way to target terrorists and criminals, the technology is supposed to see through windshields as people drive over bridges and through tunnels.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced it in July 2018. "It can see the face of the person in the car and run that technology against databases," he said at the time.

But the Wall Street Journal, citing an internal MTA email to the Cuomo administration, reported the initial facial recognition testing on the RFK bridge failed. Zero percent of faces were "...detected within acceptable parameters."

The technology has been installed at the RFK, Throgs Neck and Whitestone bridges and the Midtown and Hugh L. Carey tunnels.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has been concerned about privacy issues since this was announced last year. And now what if the MTA can't get it right?

NYCLU's policy director Lee Rowland said, "Surveillance is notoriously inaccurate, particularly when it comes to tracking people of color."

The MTA told PIX11 News, this is still in the testing phase and no images are being shared with law enforcement.

Spokesperson Maxwell Young said, “The safety of our customers is our first priority and we have a responsibility to consistently challenge ourselves to explore emerging technology to achieve that goal, especially when it has absolutely no impact on service and protects people’s privacy."

If the MTA can get the facial recognition technology to work, Long Island resident Edith Ojibe said she hopes it will catch the bad guys.

"In this world that we live in right now, I mean, I'll be on board with it," she said.

However New Yorker Deloy Stoll isn't convinced the tech will do what it is supposed to.

"If they cant get a match and the pilot, or the test, or the beta came up with zero then there is no point in doing it," she said.

The MTA said it paid $25,000 for the technology. PIX11 News reached out to Idemia, the French company that produced it. They did not respond.