Facial Recognition Technology Creeps Forward
“Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name.”
Walk into any bar, almost anywhere, and repeat those two lines. Everyone will recognize them from the hit 80s TV show, “Cheers.”
Now, thanks to hi-tech, that place where everybody knows your name, isn’t just the neighborhood tavern. It’s on the street, in the grocery store, at the doctor’s office and — coming soon — to a police department close to you.
Combine the software with Google Glass and it will be more than just your name everyone knows. They’ll know where you work, where you went to school, what you had for dinner last night, your favorite sports team and, well, the list goes on.
Think the high cost of the software will deter its use? Think again. As time passes and it becomes more readily available, the price will drop. There’s no law or regulation to say the software won’t eventually become “open source” — which is computer-speak for free.
Testing in San Diego
A groundbreaking facial recognition system was tested two years ago in San Diego.
Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS), a division of SANDAG which helped test the technology is labeling the test as “overwhelmingly positive”.
So what else would you expect the company which built the software to say about its testing?
Seventy-five devices incorporating the software were used by law enforcement agencies including police and the Border Patrol. Testing lasted for four months in late 2013 and early 2014.
People, already suspected of criminal activity and represented by their Nevada criminal law attorneys, were asked if their photo could be taken. The images were screened through a database of over a million booking photos, and an answer was provided within ten seconds.
Pamela Scanlon, executive director of ARJIS, claimed that over 250 persons had been positively identified; the company won’t release the total number of subjects involved in the test.
Authorities point to the “instant match” feature as the key to the software’s success.
“Timeliness is vital, especially when we’re talking about abductions,” said Scanlon. “Many task forces such as the gang task force and task forces for crime and sex offenses will be using it.”
San Diego residents didn’t appreciate being the guinea pigs for surveillance.
Kevin Keenan, executive director of the San Diego chapter of ACLU, said, “The privacy implications are jaw-dropping.” Keenan said the test were disturbing, and the next crisis cold expand the images in the database and use of the technology — leading to government abuse.
“Americans don’t want to walk around as though they were living inside a George Orwell novel,” Keenan said.
The idea that NameTag came out of science fiction would be remarkable if it weren’t true — and frightening to privacy advocates.
Go to a bar. Start a conversation and look into the eyes of a stranger. Stare at them and take a picture. Turn away for a moment; check their Facebook account, their hobbies, and their criminal record.
Although facial recognition technology has been in the works since the late 60s, its use has grown in the past ten years; its development was spurred by 9/11. But before the WTC attacks, security at the 2001 Super Bowl drew attention when the were caught scanning faces to find known criminals. “Snooper Bowl” was how Time magazine put it.
That decision hasn’t calmed fears about ubiquitous facial recognition.
Enter the Chinese — And Software — in Bejing
The technology tested in San Diego is limited. A subject had to sit still and willingly allow their image to be taken.
A Chinese project is hoping to be more expansive.
The Chinese group is working to outfit police vehicles with 360-degree cameras that can watch the faces of people on the street as they browse databases for known criminals.
Developed by the University of Electronic Science and Technology, the product can scan the faces of people within a 60-yard radius of the car.
As it scans, the technology filters images against law enforcement databases for everything from age, race and sex. The device is capable of doing its job as the vehicle sits still or speeds along at up to 120 MPH — making the driver aware if a known criminal is spotted.
The technology, already available in China is coming of age. It may only be a matter of time before we see its use in western nations.