Military-Grade Facial Scans Coming Soon, Promises DHS


Smile, you've been added to the national registry of suspicious individuals!
Credit: lewishamdreamer-cc-by-nc

Thanks to millions of dollars of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) research, local police may soon have military-grade facial scanning technology to use on civilian crowds.

Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) made a freedom of information request to the DHS earlier this year. She received a 67-page document about a "3D biometric facial imaging" program called the Biometric Optical Surveillance System. Also known as BOSS, the program's goal is "to determine if persons entering areas are currently on federal watch lists." BOSS has been in the works for several years.

McCall is skeptical. "This technology is always billed as antiterrorism, but then it drifts into other applications. We need a real conversation about whether and how we want this technology to be used, and now is the time for that debate," she said to the New York Times. She pointed out that using a "comprehensive database of driver's license photographs," the government could easily use BOSS technology to "systematically track everyone's public movements."

The New York Times explains that "BOSS research began as an effort to help the military detect potential suicide bombers and other terrorists overseas at 'outdoor polling places in Afghanistan and Iraq,' among other sites."

However, the DHS decided to gear its technology toward local police forces in 2010. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earmarked $5.2 million for Electronic Warfare Associates (EWA), a military contractor. Although the organization is still improving the speed and distance at which its computers can analyze and catalog a face, one expert told The New York Times that the equipment will be ready in as little as five years.

Concerns about the loss of privacy may not be far off point, as the FBI is also working on its own facial recognition program, called Next Generation Identification. Setting its sights on facial, retina, fingerprint, and even tattoo cataloging, the FBI, like the DHS, insists that such data accumulation is needed domestically for national security. 


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  1. Rid us all of DC. Kill it with thermonuclear fire. What an abomination.

    1. If that happened someplace else would sprout up to take its place. The disease runs much deeper than just once city.

      1. It’s a start, at least.

        1. What do you call 10,000 politicians at the bottom of a deep lake?

          1. 😛

          2. Bottom Feeders? Bottom Feed? A good start?


            Shit – I’ve gone and Godwined it…

          3. Polluted water?

  2. should have used the Filner photo for this post too.

  3. Gait analysis was the one I’d heard was going to be the thing in individual identification within crowds. Bruce Schneier has fun looking at a proposed satellite system in this 2008 blog post. Here’s a paper listing some of the various factors involved in such analysis.

    We’re in public, so there’s nothing to worry about, right?

    1. Not if you haven’t done anything “wrong”.

    2. BADONKADONK – that’s the name of the gait-analysis system:

      Best Analytic Detection of Natural Kinetic and Dormant Open-Network Keisters

    3. Correct. You walked out of your house, and willingly exposed your face to numerious 3rd parties. Therefore you have forfeited any and all rights to any privacy whatsoever.

      And once every police dept. has scanners that reliably see through walls, and it becomes public knowledge, then if you don’t line your walls with lead shielding, you will not have an “expectation” of privacy. After all, you knew they could see through the walls, yet you did nothing to stop it. Therefore you clearly have no expectation.

      1. And if you lined your walls with lead, well, you’ve just given the SWAT team probable cause, because drugs. Or terrorism. Or FYTW.

      2. And once every police dept. has scanners that reliably see through walls, and it becomes public knowledge, then if you don’t line your walls with lead shielding, you will not have an “expectation” of privacy.

        Though I see your point, and though SCOTUS rulings are malleable at best, SCOTUS has already ruled this unConstitutional. You can’t use thermal detectors to look for grow lights in homes without a warrant. I imagine this type of technology (featured in the whoopass new Splinter Cell game BTW) would fall under the exact same rubric.

    4. Baroquification

      A term I read on the ‘Orion’s Arm’ website (a cooperative world-building exercise).

      In order to defend against this sort of behaviour modelling and prediction, many sophonts use some sort of deception to mask their inner thoughts and motives. In modosophonts this can take the form of deliberately misleading forms of behaviour, often superimposed over the top of their natural behaviour by external processing augmentations as part of their exoself. At the same time the exoself will suppress part, or most, of their natural behaviour. Any sophont of a similar or higher toposophic level which wishes to deduce the internal mindstate of someone using such behavioural camouflage will have to distinguish between the real internal motivation and the extra layers of faked behavior.

  4. Won’t they look stupid after bath salts zombie apocalypse happens and none of us have faces anymore.

    1. Except the guy wasn’t a zombie, and he was on MJ, not bath salts. So expect Colorado and Washington to go to pot first.

  5. I like how they named it “BOSS.” As if we didn’t already know that.

    1. They’re not the boss of me.

  6. Considering they’re tying it to “federal watch lists”, I’m curious how many young children they’re going to arrest for terrorism, before letting them go a few days later with a non-apology apology.

  7. “. . . local police may soon have military-grade facial scanning technology . . .”

    Uh, hyperbole much?

    There’s no such thing as ‘military-grade facial scanning’. The military, when it uses facial scanning (which is just about, never) uses the same commercial stuff that’s available to the general public (who want to pay out the arse for it).

    1. Also – WTF? The original article doesn’t even say anything about this being military tech – its stuff developed for the *DHS*, not the *DOD*.

      Where are the freaking editors?

      1. Ignore that last bit, I’m wrong (again). I apologize.

    2. I think it means the scanners are painted black or with camo pattern, and there may be a bayonet fixture, barrel shroud or other “scary assault” features.

  8. Jane! Get me off this crazy thing!

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