Facial Recognition Technology Will Make You Hard To Miss


You've looked better.

Just in case you thought the best way to avoid having your movements automatically tracked by robo-cameras snapping your license plate as you speed on by was to get out and walk, now comes word that long-over-promised facial recognition technology is getting … well … more promising. The U.S. Senate is holding hearings on the growing ability of software to recognize people from images of their faces, and a French firm is boasting of an impressive accuracy rate in a field test at a large soccer stadium.

Modern American politics being what they are, it should be no surprise that hearings inquiring into facial recognition technology, hosted by the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, and emceed by his takes-himself-too-seriously-ship, Al Franken, focus on headline-grabber Facebook. The high-flying tech company with the notoriously clueless approach to public relations stepped into the spotlight when it implemented newly purchased technology to scan customers' uploaded photos to find friend recommendations, and immediately creeped out much of the world.

Reports The Hill:

Facebook will be under the microscope on Wednesday at a Senate hearing focused on the privacy implications of facial recognition technology.

Rob Sherman, manager of privacy and public policy at Facebook, will represent the social networking site at the hearing of a Senate Judiciary Committee subpanel, an aide confirmed to The Hill.

Last month, Facebook acquired, an Israeli start-up that develops facial recognition technology. The networking site has used's software to suggest friends to tag in the photos that users upload to the site.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Privacy subcommittee, has voiced concern about Facebook not including sufficient privacy protections in the tagging feature. In comments to the Department of Commerce, Franken has written that Facebook likely holds the largest privately held collection of face prints in the world.

Largest privately held collection? Quite possibly. But who is it that holds all those passport snapshots, drivers license photos, mugshots, etc.? That's right, and the FBI and the National Sheriffs Association will also be making appearances. That's timely, because the FBI has already implemented a facial recognition test project s part of its Next Generation Identification program. Last October, NextGov reported:

The FBI by mid-January will activate a nationwide facial recognition service in select states that will allow local police to identify unknown subjects in photos, bureau officials told Nextgov.

The federal government is embarking on a multiyear, $1 billion dollar overhaul of the FBI's existing fingerprint database to more quickly and accurately identify suspects, partly through applying other biometric markers, such as iris scans and voice recordings.

Often law enforcement authorities will "have a photo of a person and for whatever reason they just don't know who it is [but they know] this is clearly the missing link to our case," said Nick Megna, a unit chief at the FBI's criminal justice information services division. The new facial recognition service can help provide that missing link by retrieving a list of mug shots ranked in order of similarity to the features of the subject in the photo.

Right now, the FBI is drawing from a database of booking photos provided by law-enforcement agencies, and "[t]he bureau expects its collection of shots to rival its repository of 70 million fingerprints once more officers are aware of the facial search's capabilities."

Some states, such as Minnesota, are already digging through their drivers license photos with facial recognition software, looking for duplicates. Hmmm … If those databases were merged …

The real license-plate-recognition-complementing potential of facial recognition software will come when the technology can be successfully implemented through surveillance cameras, so all of those scanned photos can be checked against people walking within range of any given lens. And, with all due allowances for corporate boasting, that day is getting closer. A French startup called Vesalis, which apparently originally had its eye on helping the beauty industry market its products, found a new audience for its goods: governments. Reports IEEE Spectrum:

This fast image recognition from low-quality video, in turns out, is just what security companies dream of, to compare people against a database of known "people of concern." The French government invested €2 million in the company in 2009, and this past October, Vesalis tested its technology during a soccer game at the Parc des Princes, the largest soccer stadium in France. The system checked 20 000 people every 20 minutes against a database of 500 problem individuals and had an accuracy rate of 98 percent; competitive technology, said Michael Vannier, Vice President of U.S. Sales, has had an accuracy rate of 61 percent in similar tests. The company expects its technology, in the future, to be used in counterterrorism, border control, ATM access, and a variety of security applications. And, Robin hopes, at a few makeup counters.

So if you want to travel anonymously in the future, you may have to add a hat and fake moustache to that bogus license plate you planned to buy.

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  1. Is this a good place for a comment about how crazy it is to ask for ID when voting...

  2. So if you want to travel anonymously in the future, you may have to add a hat and fake moustache to that bogus license plate you planned to buy.

    The hat might help, if it's big enough, but not the fake moustache. They look at your bone structure.

    And even a paper bag over your head won't work -- the way you walk is a dead giveaway to the rapidly improving gait-recognition software.

    1. http://gtresearchnews.gatech.e.....e/GAIT.htm

      Results indicate these new identification methods hold promise as tools in the war on terrorism...

    2. Gravel in shoe, prosthetics on brow ridges.

    3. The hat might help, if it's big enough, but not the fake moustache. They look at your bone structure.

      Which can change dramatically if you gain or lose weight.

    4. Problem.... meet solution

    5. My defense is: I was framed by Jim Carrey.

  3. If you don't want to be constantly surveilled by the police, just never leave your house.

    That's reasonable, right?

    1. Orwell came up with their solution for that. Now shut up and drink your Victory gin.

      1. Mmmm...greasy Victory gin.

  4. Some states, such as Minnesota, are already digging through their drivers license photos with facial recognition software, looking for duplicates.

    Imagine if the software erroneously flags your picture as a duplicate of someone else's.

    1. I see Radley Balko being in business for a long time.

  5. Look guys, a power grab. Went by so fast you might have missed it.

    1. Damn that Lew. How the hell did that happen?

      1. Killaz, lay off the cough syrup before posting.

        1. I can stop anytime I want to.

          [Looks around beedy eyed. sips the Dime']

          1. Don't slizurup all the syzerup dude. Pass it over here.

            1. Alright, but the rim smells like hobo cock. Dude does what a dude's gotta do to get this stuff. Thanks, WoD.

    2. The squirrels are telling you to cancel your subscription.

      1. Anarco-Randian-minarchist Frankensquirrels that don't occur in nature.

        1. Anarco-Randian-minarchist Frankensquirrels wearing monocles and who oppress poorer squirrels with fewer nuts.

          1. They had great teachers without whom they would be nowhere.

  6. "people of concern."

    Since politicians and bureaucrats concern me most can we first test this out on them?

  7. Let's just get on with it already and go full-on Borg with those scan eye pieces and prosthetic implants. All traces of individuality erased.

    1. But then we would have to have our brains connected into a vast network with people like John McCain, Obama, David Frum, etc Do you want to listen to their thoughts 24 hours a day?

  8. Time to break out my Warty mask.

  9. Rules are for the ruled. Really, don't people understand this yet?

    1. If you don't have a system of rules. If you don't, how are you going to make one up when you need to?

  10. The U.S. Senate is holding hearings on the growing ability of software to recognize people from images of their faces, and a French firm is boasting of an impressive accuracy rate in a field test at a large soccer stadium.

    I don't believe the French firm.

    Successful facial recognition technology is a long way off if you expect any kind of high-percentage accuracy.

    I'd like to see the parameters of the test the French firm did.

    1. I understand it picked out some guy named Jean in the crowd.

    2. Yeah, it's coming, but just look at the long history of optimistic projections and outright fabrications that government suppliers have used to trick gullible politicians into giving them money. I smell bullshit.

      1. That's exactly what I'm thinking. You've got a contractor who can get it to work, sometimes, in laboratory conditions, with human helpers, and now they're fishing for a contract.

    3. In the near future if you see someone crossing their eyes and faking buck teeth while gimp limping across the street you can assume they are terrorist trying to evade the scanners.

      1. IF they have a hump underneath their trenchcoat, it's definitely shenanigans.

  11. I hope it's better than I am at putting names to faces.

    I'd hate to get droned because "He kinda looked like someone I knew."

    1. That's the most wonderful feature about these new technologies. They'll be being abused by the most incompetent organization possible: the government. We're in for some good times.

      1. For your own good, for the public good, for your own safety, for the safety of the public, for the children...

    1. The white haired cat from Deadliest Catch?

      1. OH yeah! Submit that shit, snoop dogg! You nailed it.

  12. I assume the facial recognition stuff works better than it does on Picasa, but the casual mention of voice recognition suggests some overblown worries. Voice recognition still doesn't work, even at the level of known person matching identical utterances, because nobody has shown scientifically that voice prints are unique (despite what you see in the movies). Nobody has tested them with, say, really good mimics (like Rich Little, but I'm dating myself).

      1. Thanks. Don't watch late night TV much these days, but I guess it's not a dying art. Have to keep an eye open for Caliendo. On XM Radio, Christine Pedi does a great Streisand, Julie Andrews, Patti Lupone and others.

    1. "I'm dating myself" So you buy yourself dinner before masturbating? That's so sweet!

  13. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Privacy subcommittee,

    Somehow I don't feel very good about my privacy right now.

  14. As bad as this all sounds, self-absorbed assholes who put every detail of their useless lives on Facebook deserve whatever they get.

    1. They're only self-absorbed assholes when they put every detail of their lives on Facebook, then act with shock and indignation when they discover that their drunk pics weren't private.

      I have no problem with people who put their shit online, knowing that everyone with a dialup connection can see it.

      It's when they call their congressman demanding an investigation into Facbook's privacy policies that I get annoyed.

  15. I plan on flooding the system with clones.

    1. Everyone looks suspiciously like Guy Fawkes.

  16. someone will make a billion dollars with a product that confounds facial recognition software.

  17. These systems are pretty much doomed. 98% success means 2% failure. When you start doing tens of millions of matches everday, you'll start seeing hundreds of thousands of false positives everyday.

    Generalized tracking of everyone all the time is never going to be practical. Searching for a small number of targets flowing through a natural chokepoint, however, should be completely doable.

    1. These systems are pretty much doomed. 98% success means 2% failure.

      Even at that, I would be blown away if they achieved that success rate. I don't see these systems getting a 98% success rate any time soon.

  18. The database search and false positives will trip them up for a while at least. How many faces you want in that database? Hundreds of thousands at least, maybe millions, if it includes the do-not-fly list. Trying to scan all the passengers at an airport in real time is going to be tough. The busiest are 500K a day, probably a million on the busiest days.

    How many false positives can you tolerate? The security goons will want to minimize false negatives which means accepting more false positives or reducing the reaction time. What do you do with a false positive, lock down the security section? Every few seconds delay expands the area you need to sanitize, which means more false positives to keep the speed up. Think passengers will be happy with ten false positive lockdowns every day?

    There will be ways to fool it, either to mimic a real terrorist to piss off passengers or to make the minimum wage TSA goons stop trusting it, or to not identify a real terrorist. Just disrupting the system is enough.

    I just don't see this as anything useful for at least a few years.

  19. Just paint some center-of-mass symbols in the center of your cheeks, but make sure they are not symmetrical.

  20. Never really thought about it liek that dude. Makes sesne.

  21. Why is Jack from Mass Effect 2 illustrating this post?

  22. Going technical:

    I've actually worked with object recognition software (a more general class than facial recognition) and while many of the modern algorithms are good, most of them are also easy to fool if you know how they work.

    For one thing, many rely on detection of faces first, then try and match them. This is simply because identifying "that's a face" is much easier than saying what face it is.

    So if you can fool it at the face detection stage, it won't even attempt to recognize you. This can be done pretty trivially with makeup or accessories. (I've had face detection fail on me because I was wearing sunglasses on my forehead. It couldn't tell where my real eyes were, and so thought I didn't have a face.)

    So while it's worrying from a political and social standpoint that the government is rolling out wide-spread facial recognition software, the technologies being used are undoubtedly MUCH more fragile than the .gov would have you believe.

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