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August 21st, 2013
The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Facial Scanning is Making Gains in Surveillance,” describes a rapidly maturing technology designed to spot potential terrorists in a crowd, but with applications for police departments all over the country.
The technology is rapidly being perfected for photos taken under ideal circumstances such as drivers’ licenses and mug shots but has difficulties with random photos when faces are being pointed in different directions or are partially obscured.
Still, with the rapid increase in computing power, the technology has been reduced from about seven minutes of analysis per crowd shot to 30 seconds. Further advances are still needed before the system, known as the biometric optical surveillance system or BOSS, can be competently used by police organizations around the nation.
The recent revelations by Edward Snowden, however, have raised concerns about the invasion of privacy, and many are suggesting the creation of rules now, before the system goes to live, to regulate its use.
While the idea of loading every driver license into a national database, and then tracking everyone’s public travels, is still the stuff of science fiction, the technology already exists to do so and is being perfected as we debate.
I would suggest the creation of some kind of barrier to facial recognition technology — the pre-stored images the system relies upon should only be provided when a person has been convicted of breaking the law since the rate of recidivism is so high.
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