A mass-shooting in Annapolis, Maryland, at the Capital Gazette yesterday killed five journalists, making it the most deadly domestic attack on the press since 9/11. Local police say a suspect in custody, Jarrod Ramos, appears to have acted alone and been motivated by retribution for a failed defamation lawsuit against the paper. As accounts of the shooting and its aftermath arrived, one detail stood out: The suspect was uncooperative after apprehension, and the county police used facial-recognition technology to identify him.
Some would celebrate the use any available technology to name an unidentified and uncooperative suspect caught in the act of a mass shooting, especially before the incident is clearly contained. But recently, complex surveillance technologies, like a service that Amazon pitched to law enforcement, have come under scrutiny. In addition, the mass-market success of DNA-collection data have made that technology’s surveillance power potential clear. This spring, the suspected Golden State Killer was arrested thanks to DNA matched to Joseph James DeAngelo on the genealogy website GEDmatch.
But the Anne Arundel County police department, which apprehended the Capital Gazette shooter, used a more mundane method for identifying the suspect: They matched an image of his face against a state database of driver’s-license and mugshot photos. Those systems have been around for years, but citizens might not even know they exist. Just as the Golden State Killer made ordinary citizens wonder what they don’t know about how DNA might identify them in unexpected ways, so the Annapolis shooting highlights an even more ordinary technology, the driver’s license, as an unexpected tool for mass-surveillance.