A tech firm is offering police a capability to identify and pull up information on people experiencing homeless through facial recognition technology, according to a product brochure reviewed by Motherboard. The company markets the product as being a tool to use against "problems" such as “degradation of a city's culture,” “poor hygiene (use street as a restroom),” and “unchecked predatory behavior.”
“Police use ODIN facial recognition to identify even non-verbal or intoxicated individuals,” the brochure from surveillance firm ODIN Intelligence reads. ODIN’s specific homelessness product is called ODIN Homeless Management Information System, or ODIN HMIS. The company states on its website that it partners with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and its website has alleged testimonials from local and federal law enforcement officials for some of its other products. The homelessness product is marketed to “law enforcement, fire departments, [and] other first responders,” the brochure says.
Jack Poulson from Tech Inquiry first flagged the brochure to Motherboard.
Under a section called “What’s The Problem?” discussing homelessness, ODIN lists “poor hygiene (use street as a restroom);” “reduction of property values;” and “degradation of a city’s culture,” as well as crime, frustrations among citizens, and “unchecked predatory behavior.”
In the pitch, after using the system on a person police would be provided with a slew of information on the individual, including their date of birth, prior contacts, labels such as “needles,” “assaultive,” or “registered sex offender,” their warrant status, notification of who their probation officer or parole agent is, contact information for therapists or social workers, their arrest history, and their temporary housing history.
The system also claims to include a “Bed Tracker,” which ODIN claims tallies how many people are in which temporary shelters, and how many beds are available.
“They can be ‘checked-in’ from the street and have their bed reserved while they make their way to the shelter,” the brochure reads. People experiencing homelessness can download a companion app which can provide their GPS location to third-parties, the brochure says.
Chris Gilliard, a research fellow with the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, told Motherboard in an email after reviewing the ODIN brochure that “first and foremost it is a tech laden scheme to ‘solve’ a problem where we already know what works. What unhoused people need most is stable, permanent housing. The brochure claims that the system will help people ‘transcend hardship,’ but the money used to pay for this technology would be infinitely more useful if it were directed towards simply giving people housing.”
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“Some version of the word 'crime' appears in the document six times—which helps fuel a narrative about the extent to which the vulnerable and marginalized are the problem rather than the systemic issues which created the situation,” he added. “I'm also thinking about the ways that folks ingested into this system will become fodder for other kinds of data schemes—I think for instance about the way Google contractors were scanning unhoused people to help accumulate data for a facial recognition project. Certainly this is a lower level concern, but it's worth thinking about the variety of ways that vulnerable populations will potentially be exploited by the technology.”
“This is another example of the push to make facial recognition the barrier to participate in society in any way shape or form. In terms of how tech companies envision the future, this scheme has a lot in common with the way ID.me has been integrated into government services,” he added. The IRS scrapped its plans to use ID.me’s facial recognition service on Monday.
Erik McCauley, founder and CEO of ODIN Intelligence, did not respond to an emailed question asking which datasets the system relies on for its facial recognition capability. But an article from trade publication Police Mag earlier this month said that if a person experiencing homelessness is not already entered into HMIS, they can add the information using their smartphone. The article said that HMIS’ data can be supplied directly to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a part of the executive branch of the U.S. federal government.
The brochure describes ODIN as providing “Empathic Genuine Solutions.”