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Facial Recognition

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facial recognitionFacial recognition software that scans still pictures or surveillance video feeds has become a popular tool that is increasingly being used to track the movements of and identify individuals.

It was in 1939 that George Orwell first wrote the fictional story “1984” about a future where everyone was constantly monitored.
He may have been off on his date but most of us have become so used to video surveillance that we often don’t even think about it today when we see cameras in the bank, on street corners, in schools, or in nearly every business that we visit.
That is – even if we notice them at all.
These cameras then go hand in hand with facial recognition software that allows the massive amounts of video that is being captured to be processed and used to track and identify people.

But as the use this software continues to grow and its’ efficiency develop there are some real privacy concerns that should bother everyone.

Why Use Facial Recognition

It’s hard to find a modern cop or sci-fi show on television or in the movies that doesn’t rely on some version of this high tech tool to instantly identify and track criminals so they can be made to pay for their crimes.

In fact, in real life, 95% per cent of Scotland Yard murder cases in 2009 used at least some form of CCTV (Closed Circuit Television Camera) footage as evidence.

So it’s hard to argue with the use of this technology when it is used to protect and create an almost virtual big brother to keep and eye on us and keep  us safe.

And as this technology continues to develop it’s certainly not going to go away.  The Genie is out of the bottle on this and there aren’t a lot of people that want it to go back inside.

But the big question is where does this software cross the line and become an invasion of our privacy?

Or maybe the bigger question is how much of our privacy are we willing to give up for this added security?

More Cameras

Almost every time that a crime happens on television the gruff detective demands that all the video being taken at and around the crime scene be collected for examination of clues.

This is usually followed by all that video being run through some type of facial recognition software to identify the criminals or track suspicious people.

And in real life most, if not all, or the big urban areas use of cameras to record everything that they see has increased dramatically.

It’s not unusual to find them at every major intersection and busy downtown street corner.

I usually go out for a walk most nights and it keeps amazing me how many cameras that you can see once you start looking for them.

These include cameras that are used by both law enforcement and those that are used by businesses to try and protect their property.

They are often inconspicuous and tucked away at the top of utility poles or on the corners of buildings but if you look for them you’ll probably see them everywhere.

Since 9/11 the use of CCTV cameras to track and identify terrorists has exploded with more cameras being installed every day to monitor potential problem areas that could become targets.

Local law enforcement agencies and private businesses weren’t too far behind when they realized that they could use cameras to identify criminals or stop crime.

History of Video Surveillance

Video Cameras have been around since the late 1800’s but it wasn’t until 9/11 that the push came to develop a working facial recognition program.

Until then all those video recordings were pretty useless because you had to rely on someone going through all the recordings to try and track a person or vehicle.

So both being able to use facial recognition to identify people and then the ability to identify and track vehicles has become a focus for many law enforcement groups.

And indeed it’s hard to argue against this technology when it’s used to track terrorists and criminals.

Even though right now the technology may not be as advanced as these television shows picture it doesn’t mean that Facial Recognition isn’t something that we shouldn’t be concerned about.

As facial recognition software and cameras continue to improve how long is it before our lives can be completely tracked?

How Facial Recognition Works

We as humans have always had the ability to recognize and distinguish between different faces.

But it’s only recently that scientists and programmers have started to give computers this same ability.

The first crude attempts started around the mid 1960’s but as computers have become more advanced and faster the science of facial recognition has come a long way.

The First Steps

Every face has a number of distinct landmarks that are like peaks and valleys of the face.  Each of these landmarks are called nodal points.

The human face has about 80 of these nodal points and facial recognition software measures many of these to identify people against their databases

Some of these points that are measured by the software include:

  • Distance between a persons eyes
  • Width of the nose
  • Depth of the eye sockets
  • The shape of the cheekbones
  • The length of the jaw line

These nodal points are then used to create a faceprint.

Part of the difficulty that the software would run into was that it relied on creating a 2 dimensional image that it could compare to the 2 dimensional images that were in the data bases that it could access.

In order for the software to work the image had to be of a face looking almost directly at the camera.

Any variances of light or facial expression would cause problems so when the software was trying to match images that were not taken in a controlled environment it led to a high rate of failure.

Latest 3D Methods

Using this method the software captures a 3D image of a persons face and uses the distinctive features like eye sockets, nose and chin to identify the person.

Since depth and angle of the measurements are not affected by lighting this 3D facial recognition can even be used in the dark and at different angles – even in a profile.

How Well Does Facial Recognition Work

It’s hard to tell how well this technology actually works because no one in law enforcement really wants to admit to its success or failure.

But the fact that hundreds if not thousands of these cameras are being installed across the globe means that thousands of hours of recordings are being taken.

And these recordings would be nearly useless unless there was facial recognition software to scan them.

And if you hadn’t noticed, the last time that you uploaded pictures to Google Pictures, they scan your pictures to try and identify the people in those pictures.

facial recognition

So if a free service can do it then it’s more than likely that what the government has is far ahead.

How To Avoid Facial Recognition

There is a lot of information that gives ideas about how to avoid cameras and facial recognition.

They include a Japanese company that is coming out with a privacy visor that is supposed to block video surveillance by confusing any camera that is looking at your face with a light coming from eye glasses.

According to the team that is developing this software:

“Photos taken without people’s knowledge can violate privacy,” the team says. “For example, photos may be posted online together with metadata including the time and location. But by wearing this device, you can stop your privacy being infringed in these ways.”

But my concern would be that the more that you do to avoid or in the above case, use technology to avoid surveillance, the more you stick out as someone who should be watched.

Final Thoughts On Facial Recognition

The fact is that facial recognition is not something that is going to go away.

There are just too many people that are in the world today that mean to create harm to others for whatever their reason or goal is they are trying to accomplish for law enforcement agencies to ever want to give up this tool to track them.

And businesses are inevitably going to want to use this tool both for security from theft and for identifying their customers.

By identifying their customers businesses can create custom advertising for the things that they might be interested in buying.

I’m not sure whether facial recognition will ultimately be a good or a bad thing.  It probably is going to depend upon how it is used.

But I also agree with the people that think that this is just another example of our slowly eroding right to privacy.

I also think that privacy is really something that has long gone away.

We always hear the argument from proponents of this that if we aren’t doing anything wrong then we have no need to worry about this type of surveillance and facial recognition.

But what about those of us that still believe that we are innocent until proven guilty and don’t want big brother breathing over our shoulder watching our every move in case we do something wrong?

Only time will tell whether where this is going but as a survivalist that believes in personal freedom I find this a disturbing trend.

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