Face recognition useless for crowd surveillance

So why is Visionics selling it to airports?


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


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022