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An instructor for the influential police workshop company Street Cop Training has advised law enforcement to use facial recognition at traffic stops in order to find out a person’s identity and if they have a warrant out for their arrest, even if it’s unclear whether that person committed a crime.
The recommendation, made during a podcast intended for police and hosted by members of the training organization, shows how controversial uses of facial recognition and social media can make their ways into conventional forms of policing, and the often murky legal applications of their use.
It also calls into question how new technology may be used to sidestep otherwise barred policing methods. For example, the landmark 1968 Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio ruled that police must have “reasonable suspicion” that a person might have committed a crime before they can compel that person to identify themselves. Due to that ruling, it may not be lawful for to police use facial recognition software to compel identity without having reasonable suspicion first.
The instructor, Nick Jerman, has taught thousands of police officers around the country how to do social media investigations through Street Cop Training. Insider previously reported that he has advised police to make fake social-media accounts for work using AI-generated profile images, violating some rules on platforms like Facebook. Jerman has also encouraged using these social-media investigative methods to gather information about “hot” women in order to lie to and manipulate them.
Jerman is a detective for Maryland’s Montgomery County, where he is facing an internal investigation after Insider asked the county police department to comment on rape jokes Jerman made on his personal Twitter account and Trayvon Martin jokes he made on his personal Tumblr account.
In a July 2021 episode of the Street Cop Podcast with Dennis Benigno, the company’s founder, Jerman encouraged using facial recognition software to determine the identity of the person pulled over. The Street Cop Podcast is advertised as “The training that cops deserve” and, along with Street Cop Training’s other programs, is marketed to active-duty police.
“Let’s say you’re on a traffic stop and we have someone in the car that we suspect may be wanted,” Benigno asked during the episode. “What do we do in that situation?”
“Well there’s a couple of paid programs you can use where you can take their picture, and it’ll put it in,” Jerman said, referring to facial recognition tools, before recommending “another one called PimEyes you can use.” PimEyes is a free, public-facing facial-recognition search engine.
Those recommendations would not be legal if the police don’t have reasonable suspicion that the person pulled over has committed a crime, according to Greg Nojeim, senior counsel and co-director of the Security and Surveillance Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology. In Benigno and Jerman’s example, it’s unclear if this is the case or not. Benigno and Jerman did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
Jerman teaches police departments around the country about how they can use social media and facial recognition technology.
Insider obtained a document called “Street Cop Training Social Media and OSINT Bookmarks” through a public-records request filed with the Maryland State Police. The document, which lists resources from Jerman’s social-media investigation course, includes facial recognition tools.
The document lists PimEyes, which Jerman mentioned on the podcast. It also lists Clearview AI, a facial recognition tool that tries to match faces with billions of images the company scraped from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Police have to pay to use Clearview AI long-term, though the company does offer 30-day free trials.
It also lists Thorn Spotlight, a facial-recognition tool for finding victims of child sex trafficking, and FacePlusPlus, another facial recognition tool.
Jerman and Benigno also discussed another scenario on the July 2021 podcast: An officer pulls someone over on a traffic stop, but the officer can’t compel the person to show their identification. Based on the Terry v. Ohio ruling, this probably means the officers don’t have reasonable suspicion.
“How about, you’re in a situation where you can’t compel ID and before you even ask you’re like there’s something not right with this guy and he’s gonna lie,” Benigno said.
Jerman suggested getting the person’s phone number, either by asking the person, or by accusing the person of stealing a phone in the car and asking if they can call the phone in order to exonerate them.
“[Say] ‘I see that phone in the car, we’ve had a lot of thefts of phones,’ say ‘Is that really your phone?’ and then you can call it to see if that’s the real phone number,” Jerman said. “If you can get the phone number from your target, the world is your oyster.”
Then, Jerman said police should see if there are any social media accounts associated with the phone number. He said they should also use services like Truecaller, which shows the names associated with a phone number by finding how it’s labeled in other people’s contact lists. (Truecaller gets this information by asking users to share the contacts in their phone.)
“A person who gives up their phone number makes a choice,” Nojeim, the Center for Democracy and Technology lawyer, told Insider. I think they should be informed of whether they are obliged to give up their phone number and what the police intend to do with it.
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