NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Facial Recognition Technology Called Ineffective

January 17, 2002

Face recognition technology doesn't work as advertised, says Mike Krause of the Independent Institute, although outrageous claims have been made for its abilities.

For instance, days after Sept. 11th, the CEO of Viisage Technology claimed, "If our technology had been deployed, the likelihood is (the terrorists) would have been recognized." However, says Krause, "most of the hijackers weren't on any watch list and their faces were unknown."

  • When Viisage's system was used to scan Superbowl fans last year, according to a Tampa, Fla., detective who worked on the test, "I looked at some of those side-by-side pictures and they weren't the same person."
  • And last June Tampa began using face-recognition technology to scan citizens on the street to compare to a database of criminals and runaways; but the American Civil Liberties Union recently found the city had essentially abandoned its system.
  • While no positive matches were made to the criminal database, the system did manage to match up "male and female subjects and subjects with significant differences in age and weight."

A study of facial recognition technology by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found a 43 percent failure rate for pictures of the same person taken 1.5 years apart.

In Great Britain, there are over two million surveillance cameras linked to various biometric databases and the average Briton is now photographed by an estimated 300 separate cameras in a single day.

But no terrorists have been caught, and the drop in crime in one London borough that uses a system of over 200 cameras using Visionics Corp.'s face recognition technology is attributable to signs claiming (falsely) that "police know who you are and where you live."

Source: Mike Krause, "Is Face Recognition Just High-Tech Snake Oil?" Op-Ed, January 10, 2002, Independent Institute, 100 Swan Way, Oakland, Calif. 94621, (510) 632-1366.

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