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New report on facial recognition out now

April 13, 2009

There is an excellent new report on facial recognition now available for free download. The report is written by my one-time co-author on the subject, Lucas Introna of Lancaster University, and new Surveillance & Society advisory board member, Helen Nissenbaum of New York University.

The report is aimed primarily at people who developing policy on, or thinking of commissioning or even using facial recognition and therefore concentrates on the practical questions (does it work? what are its limitations?) however it does not neglect the moral and political issues of both overt and covert use. What is quite interesting for me is how little the technical problems with the systems have changed since Lucas and I wrote our piece back in 2004; the ability of facial recognition to work in real-world situations as opposed to controlled environments still appears limited by environmental and systemic variables like lighting, the size of the gallery of faces and so on.

The report is probably the best non-technical summary available and is perfect for non-specialists who want to understand what is the state-of-the-art in facial recognition and the range of issues associated with the technology. Very much recommended.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 25, 2010 1:32 am

    Have things changed much in a year?

    Last week, Spanish firemen on holidays in France were wrongly identified, from a supermarket CCTV video, as ETA members. The footage was then broadcast on TV giving them an unwarranted and unwelcomed Warholian fame. In case you’re not familiar with this news story, here’s an article about it:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/20/AR2010032001331.html

    One French article mentions with little details that the identification was done automatically by software. An experimental one from Sophia Antipolis was apparently used for a facial database search and a German one for automatic facial expression analysis (Paul Ekman’s microexpressions?):

    http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=1&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.politis.fr%2FEnquete-sur-les-dessous-de-l%2C9957.html&sl=auto&tl=en (with several further corrections as the automated translation was not very good)

    “[snip] Then as they had no serious element to locate anyone, the police sought to use an experimental recognition software. Software (developed in Sophia-Antipolis in southern France) which allows at least two things. First to “recognize” individuals whose photos and anthropometric profiles are among several thousand suspects in the database. This has led to rapidly isolate the wrong suspects simply because they have roughly the same age and even appearance. French police only had to “recognize” them once identified. At that point the police immediately provided the name of a suspect (Arkaitz Agirrebiria) which indeed was included in the database of the recognition software. Spanish police immediately confirmed assuming that French colleagues could not be wrong. On the other hand, the recognition software or another (this point remains obscure) was also applied to images. Its particularity: it is one of those, being developed in Germany, that can “measure” (sic), the degree of anxiety, degree of restlessness, facial expressions of suspicious persons filmed. Double Bingo! [snip]”

    If this article is accurate, it would seem that facial recognition technology is used today by some police forces in an indiscriminate way even though it’s not up to the task and ends up affecting the life of innocents. Also depending on how the reference database is populated it could be used to criminalise communities based on some visual profiling.

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