Facial Recognition Technology Leads to Capture of Child Sex Offender on the Run for 14 Years

Friday, August 15, 2014
Neil Stammer FBI wanted poster

Neil Stammer probably thought he was safe from federal authorities, having skipped bail on various charges, including child sex abuse, for 14 years. After all, he seemed to have the perfect hideaway: the mountainous enclave of Nepal on the other side of the world from the United States.


But the wonders of modern technology, in this case facial recognition software, helped uncover Stammer and end his days as a fugitive.


“He was very comfortable in Nepal,” Special Agent Russ Wilson said in a press release by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). “My impression was that he never thought he would be discovered.”


The former owner of a New Mexico magic shop, Stammer was arrested in 1999 for child sex abuse and kidnapping, among other charges. But while out on bail, he fled the state and the country, which got the FBI involved in the case.


The trail went cold after a while and stayed that way until earlier this year when an official with the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), which provides protection for American diplomats and works to maintain the integrity of U.S. travel documents, decided to test new facial recognition software created to detect passport fraud.


The DSS official happened to use an FBI wanted poster containing Stammer’s image for his experiment and found that it matched the photo of an American in Nepal going by the name of Kevin Hodges. At that point, Wilson got a call from DSS informing him of the findings about Neil Stammer and “Kevin Hughes.”


Wilson went to the Asian nation and found Stammer had been visiting the U.S. Embassy regularly to renew his tourist visa. The agent tracked down Stammer, arrested him, and sent him back to New Mexico to stand trial.


While the software paid off in this case, some privacy advocates fear it could be used to track ordinary citizens. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says that the FBI will have up to 52 million photos in its facial recognition database by next year.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Long-Time Fugitive Captured (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

FBI Embracing Facial Recognition to “Find bad Guys” (by David Kravets, Ars Technica)

Armed Robber becomes First in Chicago to be Convicted Using Facial Recognition Technology (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman)

Facial Recognition Software Creeps Closer to Total Accuracy (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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