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Interpol proposes world face-recognition database

Old skool mugshot files too slow, say globocops

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Interpol chiefs will propose the use of automated facial-recognition technology at borders to flag up internationally wanted suspects, according to reports.

The UK already has airport gates equipped with such technology, intended to remove the need for a human border guard to check that a passenger's face matches the one recorded in his or her passport. According to the Guardian, Interpol database chief Mark Branchflower believes that his organisation should set up a database of facial-recognition records to operate alongside its existing photo, fingerprint and DNA files.

Interpol member nations would have the option of uploading face records of wanted suspects in the same way they already do other biometrics data, and would be able to check an individual's headshot against the Interpol files as with the other metrics.

The attraction of facial-recognition records, as opposed to conventional mugshots, is that automated searching is possible. A specially-equipped airport gate - or even, in some circumstances, a security camera - would be able to sound an alert every time a person on the Interpol watch list went past. Such detections are often made by border guards and ordinary policemen, recognising suspects from routine circulars and lists, but facial-recognition is seen as potentially more reliable.

"Facial recognition is a step we could go to quite quickly," Branchflower told the Guardian ahead of his speech at the Biometrics 2008 conference tomorrow. The Graun is National Media Partner for the man-tracker expo.

"It's increasingly of use to [all] countries," said Branchflower.

"There's so much data we have but they are in records we can't search."

According to Branchflower, automated document checks would also be handy in preventing people from travelling on passports or ID cards which don't belong to them. Interpol also runs a database of lost or stolen papers, but many countries' passports can't be checked atuomatically by machine.

Thus such a passport can be used with little fear of detection, as it will normally only be checked against the Interpol database if a cop or border agent becomes suspicious of the bearer and runs a manual check. Branchflower says that 800 million people travel internationally every year without any check being made that their papers are in fact legit. He'd prefer it to become a rarity for a journey to occur without the passport being checked against his central database of lost and stolen ones.

Libertarian campaign group NO2ID said that plans of this sort were a step too far.

"Law enforcement agencies want the most efficient systems but there has to be a balance between security and privacy," NO2ID spokesman Michael Parker told the Graun. ®

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