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U.S. border patrol eyeing facial recognition for body cams

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent Manny Villalobos suits up for his night patrol along the international border between Mexico and the United States near San Diego, California, March 26, 2013. Picture taken March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) - U.S. customs officials are seeking information on facial recognition software for body-worn cameras that agents who police the border could use, according to a government filing.

On Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) posted a request for information on body cameras, cloud storage and video management software that could help agents in remote outposts as they check for contraband and for immigrants entering the country illegally. The exploratory filing does not oblige the United States to move forward with the program.

The request listed features that CBP deemed critical, such as encryption and high-definition video, and it added facial recognition as a non-required item of “potential interest.”

Specifically, CBP sought information on whether the ability to check faces against a database was currently available or when it would be operational - or even why a vendor chose to forgo the technology entirely.

The CBP’s request underscores growing interest in facial recognition by law enforcement in the United States, just as the technology has come under heavy scrutiny.

This month, California’s governor signed a bill into law that bans state and local law enforcement from using body cameras with facial recognition software for three years, one of several recent curbs on technology that some say poses a threat to civil liberties.

“Body cameras were promised to communities as a tool for officer accountability and should not be twisted into surveillance systems to be used against communities,” Chris Rickerd, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in response to the CBP filing.

Responses to CBP's request for information are due on Oct. 31, according to the Federal Business Opportunities here website.

Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; editing by Richard Pullin