Is the Statue of Liberty Getting Racial Recognition Cameras?

April 29, 2013 | Andy Cush

You’ve heard of facial recognition, that old classic of the dystopian surveillance state. But what about racial recognition, a system that would instantly let authorities know whether or not that guy creeping around the premises of a national landmark is terrorist-colored or not?

According to a report from Slate, that exciting new technology may be headed to a century-old statue near you. The Statue of Liberty has employed facial recognition software with its surveillance cameras since 2002, but the journal Police Product Insight reported the statue would begin a trial of a more robust software called FaceVACS in late 2012. In addition to the aforementioned ethnicity-detection, FaceVACS reportedly can also guess a person’s age and gender, identify suspects on watch lists, see through disguises like facial hair, and follow individual faces through a crowd.

When Slate reporter Ryan Gallagher attempted to follow through on that report with the Statue of Liberty’s superintendent, the National Parks Service, the company that makes FaceVACS, and the company that planned to install the system, however, he got a beguiling mixture of responses and threats.

Statue superintendent Dave Luchsinger and a representative from Cognitec, the company that makes FaceVACS confirmed the surveillance plans were still on, but Total Recall, the company on tap to install the security system, was vague about whether the facial/racial recognition technology would actually be installed. When pressed, representatives from both Total Recall and Cognitec threatened Gallagher with “legal action” if he published his repot.

Whatever new surveillance is coming to Lady Liberty, the people behind it don’t want you to know about it. “Whether Cognitec’s ethnicity-detecting face recognition software will eventually implemented at Lady Liberty remains to be seen,” writes Gallagher. “What is certain, however, is that the attempt to silence reporting on the mere prospect of it is part of an alarming wider trend to curtail discussion about new security technologies that are (re)shaping society.”