Anti-terror face recognition system flunks tests

Logan's Run

The extent of the failure of facial recognition technology in spotting terrorists in crowds has been revealed in a report on tests at Boston's Logan airport.

We knew already that the tests were a flop but the airport's official report, obtained last month by way of a Freedom of Information Act request from the American Civil Liberties Union and released yesterday, reveals the true extent of their failure.

Last year, two separate face-recognition systems at the airport's security checkpoints failed to detect volunteers posing as potential terrorists 96 times during a three month test period. The systems correctly detected these test subjects 153 times over the same period, the report states.

According to the Logan report, which was written by an independent security contractor in July last year, "the number of system-generated false positives was excessive, and as a result, the operator's workload is taxing and strenuous, requiring constant undivided attention and periodic relief, which amounts to a staffing minimum of two persons for one workstation."

Which goes to show, once again, that facial recognition systems are useless in identifying people in crowds, even if they do have a place in controlled environments.

Police in Tampa, Florida, last month announced that they were discontinuing the use of face recognition technology, saying the technology failed to prove of any benefit. In Virginia Beach, Virginia, the other town that has deployed the technology, police conceded that its system has yet to match a single person to any of the up to 30,000 mug shots it is capable of storing. Even so, local police are still pushing ahead with the trial.

By contrast, early results of a facial biometric system by Grampian police in Scotland demonstrated the value of using facial biometrics to identify suspects in a police custody suite.

Back at Logan, where 10 of the 19 terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks boarded flights - the airport is testing other security technology, including infrared cameras and eyeball scanners, USA Today reports.

The Logan trials used technology from Identix and Visage Technology. An Identix spokesman told USA Today the technology was better suited for "one-to-one" identification, such as comparing photos on passports than random searches of photo databases. Visage Technology declined comment. ®

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