Facial recognition: Identifying faces in a crowd in real-time

New infrared security cameras can accurately recognize faces in seconds, even while they are moving, even in the pitch darkness.

Facial recognition systems have been evolving since the 1960s, trying to automatically identify a person from a mug shot, database, video, or digital image. Most were flawed and could be rendered ineffective if a full frontal view of the face was off by 20 degrees, by poor lighting, long hair, sunglasses, and even by a big toothy smile. But now facial recognition as a security system has leapfrogged into real-time identification that is not hindered by lighting conditions, facial angle, or body movement.

According to Homeland Security Newswire, a new type of infrared security camera can accurately recognize faces in seconds, even while they are moving, even in the pitch darkness. This real-time facial recognition camera can capture and analyze images before comparing them to a database. If a suspect is identified, it can trigger a real-time alarm.

The CheckPoint.S system from OmniPerception can identify faces in a crowd in real-time and is being used by law enforcement agencies, finance, leisure and airport security industries. OmniPerception biometric experts released this statement, “We are really excited at the potential that exists to use CheckPoint.S™ as a valuable resource to combat crime, terrorism and identify theft and enhance the safety and security of our public spaces.”

The CheckPoint.S system "is a covert real-time facial identification system that acts as an automatic 24/7 security guard that never forgets a face." As well as alerting security teams if a suspect is near, the OmniPerception’s cameras can be "used to identify subjects with special privileges such us employees, security cleared personnel or, in different applications, VIPs" who are looking to enter premises such as hotels and casinos. The system works in a matter of seconds and in the near-infrared, working "in any lighting conditions, from pitch darkness to sunlight and everything in between."

“The thing that has plagued facial recognition for many years is the effect of lighting,” OmniPerception’s CEO Stewart Hefferman told the Engineer’s Stephen Harris. “We may not recognize someone with 100 percent confidence and that’s why we always pass the final call to a more intelligent being — a human — and we choose the applications and markets on that basis. We would give the police the confidence to pursue a line of enquiry rather than the evidence to say ‘John Smith was there.’ I don’t ever believe it would be used purely as an evidential tool.”

According to OmniPerception, The CheckPoint.S system was developed in collaboration with BAE Systems, which helped develop technology that integrates biometrics or face and iris recognition into one prototype platform.

The face and iris recognition press release stated, "The system integrates face and iris recognition to provide a dual layer of security – particularly useful in verifying individuals in highly populated environments where security is vital. Future applications could include mass transit systems and schemes that require high volume enrolment or verification such as airports, exhibitions, sporting and entertainment fixtures.  The system uses information derived from key points around the face and eyes to identify a subject. Identification can be made using cameras at a variety of angles, so a direct face-on picture is not required – particularly useful in crowded and busy environments."

Advancements in biometric technologies are growing at a crazy fast pace. Will the security enhancements pay off or be abused? Will privacy survive at all? George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was quoted on page 20 of another privacy lawsuit, but seems to apply to most things about the surveillance society that we live in today:

"There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live--did live, from habit that became instinct--in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized."

And now there seems to be no hiding even in the dark. For now there is the CheckPoint.S system, which can watch us in the pitch darkness.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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