Feeds

Face recognition useless for crowd surveillance

So why is Visionics selling it to airports?

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

High performance access to file storage

Anyone offended by the Orwellian implications of using face-recognition technology to scan airport crowds for terrorists can take heart in the fact that the technology is, quite simply, worthless in that situation.

As an authentication tool, used in controlled settings, face recognition has real value. But even here we can expect a false acceptance rate (FAR) of one in 250, according to biometrics outfit FaceKey.

"This means that under controlled circumstances....you could expect one false positive out of 250 people when face recognition is used alone," FaceKey COO Annette Starkweather told The Register. "FaceKey has combined face recognition with fingerprint recognition to [achieve] a FAR of one in 2.5 million," she added.

"Limiting access to secure areas in airports would be a perfect application for biometrics," Starkweather says.

But in uncontrolled settings, such as we'd encounter in a surveillance context, the performance of face recognition falls to absurd depths.

This has actually been examined by the US Department of Defense (DoD) Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which sponsored the Facial Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) 2000, the biggest and most well-known test to date, Image Metrics COO Gareth Edwards told us.

"With indoor light, and a prior image taken at 1.5m camera-subject separations and another taken at 2m camera-subject separations, the best false detection rate (FDR) was 33 per cent, with a false acceptance rate (FAR) of ten per cent."

This means that "to detect 90 per cent of terrorists we'd need to raise an alarm for one in every three people passing through the airport. It's absolutely inconceivable that any security system could be built around this kind of performance," Edwards says.

And yet, a biometrics company called Visionics is trying to sell precisely that, rushing to capitalize on the recent suicide hijackings in New York and Washington, as we reported earlier.

Apparently, Visionics employs some sort of slick marketing magic by which they run potential patsies through the grease and persuade them to invest in their FaceIt surveillance kit.

"Most worrying is the number of reports from people who've seen working demos and 'field-trials' of these types of systems. Many truly think that they offer an answer. [But] when subject to raw, rigorous analysis, we've yet to see any evidence that these systems offer any value. There's yet to appear any plausible explanation of the results of the FRVT test when compared with so-called 'field trials,'" Edwards says.

The discrepancy, we have to suspect, reflects the natural difference between rigorous testing by disinterested third parties, and some self-serving marketing demo.

Visionics has been sponsoring a public surveillance trial in Tampa, Florida, with the stated goal of busting sex offenders and pedophiles, two target groups which no one would rush to defend. Now they're exploiting the terrorist threat, which in recent weeks has become America's paramount fear.

There is talk that the Department of Transportation will bite the hook and authorize a FaceIt trial at National Airport in Washington, DC when it reopens.

A similar company, Viisage, which made headlines by scanning crowds at last year's Super Bowl, is also eagerly pursuing the airport surveillance angle, and has "offered the FBI free use of their face-recognition technology to aid in the apprehension or identification of the persons responsible for the terrorism in New York City and Washington," for an added marketing gimmick.

The companies are clearly anticipating bundles of cash selling this technology before word gets out that it's of no use in a public surveillance setting.

Afterwards, they can still haul in a nice profit selling incremental 'upgrades' to victims who've invested millions and can't justify backing out; and for an added bonus, they will have become the 'DoubleClicks' of public biometric data, which is sure to be a gold mine in itself. ®

Related Link

Facial Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) 2000 Results

Related Stories

Face-scan outfit rushes to exploit WTC atrocity
Cops using high-tech surveillance in Florida
Feds use biometrics against Super Bowl fans
Biometric spy CEO claims privacy enhanced

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Windows XP still has 27 per cent market share on its deathbed
Windows 7 making some gains on XP Death Day
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
Microsoft TIER SMEAR changes app prices whether devs ask or not
Some go up, some go down, Redmond goes silent
Red Hat to ship RHEL 7 release candidate with a taste of container tech
Grab 'near-final' version of next Enterprise Linux next week
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.