The federal government is making progress on developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with researchers working on the project.
The automated matching of close-up photographs has improved greatly in recent years, and companies like Facebook have experimented with it using still pictures.
The company has been working with the laboratory of Aly Farag, a University of Louisville computer vision specialist, and the contract was steered to the firm by an earmark request in a 2010 appropriations bill by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.
But for the last three decades the authorities stopped short of touching the group’s revered leader, the supreme guide, who oversaw the country’s most effective social, political and religious organization despite its outlawed status.
“We came close to annihilation once under Nasser, but this is worse,” said Gehad el-Haddad, a Brotherhood official now on the run, referring to former President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s attempt to smash the group after he came to power in 1954.
Devastated by the assault, the group has backed off its vow of a “million martyrs,” ending its six-week campaign of organizing demonstrations and sit-ins against the military takeover that ousted its ally, Mr. Morsi.
It has also foreclosed the chance to use the Brotherhood’s more pragmatic leadership to channel and control the broader and more fractious Islamist movement, as Mr. Mubarak once did.
The Brotherhood has often turned inward and squelched dissent in times of crisis, and Mr. Ezzat’s elevation was an early indication that the crackdown could “push the group into the control of the hard-liners” instead of younger reformers, said Khalil al-Anani, a scholar of the Brotherhood at the Washington-based Middle East Institute who is now in Cairo.
Since then, the exemption has attracted notice because Naral has been so politically active: waging a campaign last year to help Democrats take control of the State Senate; spending $425,000 on lobbying this year, pushing an abortion rights measure put forth by Mr. Cuomo; and vowing to go after incumbent Republican senators next year.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, which said that Supreme Court precedent required the state to provide an exemption for groups whose work is deeply controversial, is also worried about ramifications for donors.