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Facial Recognition Technology is Now a Working Reality

facial recognition technology

We’ve all seen the scene in CSI: Miami where a blurry image of a criminal is ran through a flashy database at lightning speed before matching with an identifiable suspect. Well, when Horatio and his team did it in Miami the technology didn’t exist. But now, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a high tech unit of the police department is running preliminary tests to use facial recognition technology to identify criminals.

The technology works by using surveillance shots from crime scenes to capture facial measurements, and then running the pictures through a database of 200,000 images of mug shots from the Albuquerque Police Department until a match is found. A trained analyst then goes through the possible matches and reports the results to investigating detectives.

So far, according to the Real Time Crime Centre manager, TJ Wilham, having tested the technology 15 times, the technology has produced “three or four good matches”. It’s not exactly a Minority Report success rate, but according to Wilham they are still only in the learning stages.

Civil rights groups such as American Civil Liberties Union are already voicing concerns that the technology may start making false positives, and treating innocent people as suspects. According to Peter Simonson, the executive director of ACLU “the technology is prone to some very serious errors.” Yet, testing of the technology is set to continue.

One thing Wilham has made very clear is that this technology alone does not provide enough evidence to make an arrest. “We cannot make arrests solely based on a facial recognition hit,” Wilham said. “This isn’t like fingerprinting. This isn’t a technology that’s proven in a court of law.”

Trialed on one case, the technology identified a man who tried to return stolen perfume to a department store. He was matched with a man who had a previous record related to drugs and theft. A second test identified a man who was caught with a fake driver’s license. Again, the technology matched him with a man who had previously been arrested.

With a similar program running in San Diego, California, it appears as if the technology will only be taking a more central role in high tech crime detection in the foreseeable future.


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