Facial Recognition? There's an App for That, and U.S. Law Enforcement Has Been Helping Private Companies Use It

Soon shopping malls and theaters can run surveillance images through an app to access state, federal, and international law enforcement watch-lists.



Las Vegas-based startup Biometrica Systems describes its business as "creating software and systems that link the physical to the digital" and vice versa, "with the intention of minimizing criminality" and "events that could lead to crime."

The company's encrypted Security & Surveillance Information Network (SSIN) is already used by law-enforcement and gaming, retail, and hospitality businesses to share real-time information about suspicious incidents and individuals. Now, the network's newest iteration will give clients "the ability to run facial recognition scans of any individual or group on their properties and match them against a law enforcement verified database of criminals numbering in the millions, including more than one million registered sex offenders"—all using a convenient mobile app. What could go wrong?

Initially focused on the casino and gaming sector, Biometrica has since expanded SSIN to serve "shopping centers, stores, malls, and movie theaters." In an explanation of Biometrica products, the company website notes that federal and state governments have been "seeing the upside of sharing data with private partners" and that has allowed Biometrica to "collect and amalgamate several different law enforcement watch-lists—local, federal, state, and international."

And this, in turn, has allowed Biometrica "to create a composite set of images of an individual and their known associates, and build a set of dynamic attributes to attach to the individual and/or group" to provide businesses with a more "holistic" way of conducting "threat identification and crime prevention."

In a show of spectacularly creepy bravado, Biometrica CEO Wyly Wade called the new SSIN "revolutionary," and not only for security and surveillance companies. "This might be the first time a private company has taken Department of Defense-developed Facial Recognition software… and attached that to mobile devices for private customer use," he said.

The facial-recognition app can also benefit "non-bank financial institutions," said Biometrica Chief Financial Officer Nigel White in a statement. "They have an imperative to fulfill Know Your Customer requirements on an everyday basis. Helping them have access to faces and backgrounders of known white-collar felons in the system, will support their KYC and Anti-Money Laundering obligations."

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  1. Is this just about a paycheck for these people or are they so vapidly naive that they cannot see how this could get very bad very quickly?

    1. there is a category of people who are distracted by the intended use and don’t see the potential for abuse.

      My favorite recent example was the two groups of arguments about the “YouTube Heroes” program where the groups were talking past one another, one fixated on the potential for abuse and the other on their perception of Google’s intent.

      I don’t have enough data, but there’s cause to suspect it’s like this in a lot of fields in and out of tech.

      1. See: Encryption and competing definitions of “use” an “abuse”

      2. On a recent project we had installed a bunch of cool security cameras all over a neighborhood. One of the potential apps was to be able to send your kid to school or the park and have the camera software follow them automatically and notify you and the police if anything went bad. There was also an app so Mom could watch the snowflake too.

        The security camera team was so proud of their work. When we were doing the risk review, we asked how they were handling authentication and making sure no stalkers or pedophiles were using the cameras to remotely skeev on women and kids, they all got a strange look on their face. None of them had thought of that at all.

        All of them were so caught up in how good the software was in recognizing the target and using complex rules to decide if things were OK or not. It was great programming, actually too good.

        1. When we were doing the risk review, we asked how they were handling authentication and making sure no stalkers or pedophiles were using the cameras to remotely skeev on women and kids, they all got a strange look on their face.

          In turn, stalkers and pedophiles remotely skeeving on women and kids clothed and in a public place remotely kinda de facto aren’t stalkers and pedophiles unless your definition of one or both includes the term ‘patriarchy’.

          1. unless said stalkers etc were accessing the system to observe, and learn patterns of movement in relation to time of those movements, in order to plan their “moves”. Ever thought of that? No? Didn’t think so.

            Best way to protect Johnnie as he walks to the park for an afternoon of pickup ball would be a large well trained German Shepherd. Teach Johnnie German or tagalog, and have that the langage in which the dog is trained. Johnnie can talk to the dog but no one else would think to switch language…. and the dog would be a great protecor if anything “funny” commenced.

    2. so vapidly naive that they cannot see how this could get very bad very quickly

      For many years, II was involved with IEEE engineers starting companies, and it was stunning how many of them were working on projects that were quite useful for the worst sorts of oppression with an absolute inability to grasp who their ideas could be misused.

      And on occasions when I’d ask them how the government would be prevented from using the tool to identify, for example, people organizing grass root groups for some political activism that the bureaucrats using the tool would rather see not happen, they’d go into full Pollyanna mode. “Why, that would be illegal! Of course nobody would do that! This is to identify insurgent ringleaders in Iraq, not for the U.S!”

      1. We’re special that way.

        1. not enough Short Busses to go around. Sad…..

    3. The worst IoT project I ever sat in on the pitch for was a company that did smart parking meters. They were complete scum. They openly bragged about how they weren’t in parking spot management, they were in ticket managment.

      The ways they had to skin people who had the misfortune to park at one of their meters was incredible. They said that their meters would go from a couple hundred bucks a week to thousands a week once they were installed because people would overfeed them because they would be instantly ticketed and towed if they didn’t.

      I was very happy when my company couldn’t work out a deal with them. It was the first project I ever had serious moral qualms about.

      * One of the features of their smart meters was to use the camera on them to take pictures of every license plate currently parked in front of them and look for the particular plate of “a dangerous criminal”. Of course, they charged LEO’s a fee to do a scan and give them the results.

      1. “We innovate in new ways to fleece people actually trying to be productive.”

        1. They would reverse auction text messages to tow companies. When a car was eligible to be towed they’d send a text to Tow Company A 15 minutes earlier than Tow Company B because A paid them for the head’s up.

          Of course, Company B soon outbid Company A. Like I said they were complete jackasses.

          1. That kind of moral flexibility is enviable in a way. You could make a crap ton of money doing stuff like that.

            Crony your way into local politics and your family would probably be set for generations.

          2. Vancouver BC had to change their towaway policies some years back. Seems the tow companies would begin hooking up fove to ten minutes prior to the 4 PM towaway zone start time. After a pile of miffed citizens raided City Hall and filed court actions against the dirty tow companies, the City passed a new set of regs: a city copper had to first write a ticket and place it on the windscreen of the car before it could be towed.

            So, something akin to abuse, but abiding the letter of the law, develooped: coppers would show up fifteen minutes before TIME, fill out a pile of tickets, putting everything but the mumber plate on them. Then, at the crack of 4PM, he’d walk the block, scribbling number plates on each prepared ticket, slapping them on the cars, whereupon the toadies would hook up one after the next and make a killing. Funny thing, too… NOT… the tow for past time cost the car’s owner about four times what it would have cost had the tow happened at 3:30 and went to the repair shop because it won’t start. Same towtrick, car, and distance. Oh, and ONLY the registered owner could bail out the car… which meant if the car was borrowed the real owner had to some all the way downtown, pay the exhorbitant fee in cash, then drive it out of the lot and return it to his friend who had borrowed it. the day rate to leave in the impound yard was astronomical as well. Racket, anyone?

  2. I predict asymmetrical bangs becoming fashionable again.

    1. We’re going all 80s retro right now so that prediction is a shoo-in.

    2. Loud bangs could be more expedient. This seems borderline unconstitutional…

  3. Well, this isn’t terrifying. Nope. Not at all.

    Everything is fine.

  4. Does it actually work? I was watching the HBO doc on the Boston Marathon bombing and the feds used their best-of-the-best facial recognition software on all the crowd shots and it turned up bupkis.

    1. Indignant Explaination: It’s not our fault all meatbags look alike.

      1. O.o

    2. It works to some extent. The scary part isn’t where it causes false negatives, it’s where it causes false positives. And there are going to be a lot of those.

      1. Agreed. In fact, I’d suspect it would all be pretty much false positives. I heard another report on the use of FR software and this was exactly the problem. In the fear that it was cutting out ‘legitimate matches’, the criterion was widened to the point where anything close was considered a ‘match’, then human operators had to spend hours combing through all the ‘matches’.

        1. Reminds me of an example I always use with the TSA security theater. I ask someone what they would think about a system that would 100% be able to identify a terrorist and would turn up a false positive once every 10,000 times.

          People usually jump at the chance and think that would be great. Then you let them know that such a system would catch 5 million false positives for every actual terrorist it caught. So, now how likely do you think the operators are to be able to pick the 1 real terrorist out of the 5 million?

      2. The scary part is that mass surveillance exists at all, regardless of whether or not it’s ‘abused’ (and it will be). Mass surveillance is an abuse in and of itself.

  5. I am offended. This means someone has to make the bad man stop, I’m pretty sure it’s, like, the law and stuff.

    Capital is plentiful, and some of the hype is valid: Old-line companies and upstart entrepreneurs alike are making high-risk bets on cars, space travel and drones, and some policy makers are trying to ?tolerate more risk so that these bets succeed.

    Some policy makers are trying to ?tolerate more risk so that these bets succeed.

    Some policy makers are trying to ?tolerate more risk so that these bets succeed.

    Some policy makers are trying to ?tolerate more risk so that these bets succeed.

  6. Minority Report was prescient.

  7. It’s time to get my “Skinned Orphan Face” business off the ground!

    1. What good is that? The face itself is too small to be of any use, unless you are using the now-faceless orphans to run errands for people.

      1. It’s like the deliberately hobbled child beggars in Bangladesh.

        1. American orphans just got priced right out of the market.

      2. Working in the mines ages one tremendously.

  8. What could go wrong?

    Every one of a dozen things we can imagine, and probably a hundred other things they’ll discover.

  9. By the way, nice to know that Hennepin County finally has some competition.

    The problem with these rookies is that they are bragging on it. Our sheriff is doing it right by refusing to talk about it even when ordered to do so by a court.

  10. Haters. If it helps just one Leo get home safely by avoiding a concentration of criminals…

  11. It works to some amount. The creepy part isn’t where it causes fake harmful; it’s where it causes false positives. And there are going to be lots of those. Midnight Essays

    1. I inspired a bot. I feel so proud.

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