UK Police trial CCTV Facial Recognition software
The BBC have reported this week that a police force in Leicester will be the first in the country to trial unique new facial recognition software for all of their collected CCTV footage. This is certainly not the first case of this type of technology being used in the UK, with Glasgow annnouncing the city-wide installation of facial recognition CCTV systems last year. The capabilities of this new system however are significantly more advanced, and provide new potential methods that are unavailable even with modern video analytics techniques, and the force is already claiming an impressively high rate of positive identification.
Wired.co.uk ran this typically in-depth look at the software’s claimed features, and some of them are certainly impressive. Users can take digital video from any source- typically this would be CCTV or body-worn camera footage– and the software will automatically detect faces, and compare them to a supplied database of mugshots and identifying photos, allowing it to identify a subject. However, what is really unique is it’s ability to take a portion of a face, or a face at an oblique angle, and use an advanced algorithm to recreate a “full-frontal” mockup- something the manufacturers have dubbed “pose correction”. This potentially gives the police the ability to rely on footage that is of lower quality, whilst still retrieving usable information. The downside to this however is that as the software creates a “morphed” digital composite, this cannot be used as evidence by itself, and is only for helping create new lines of enquiry for officers.
This type of analytical software is one of the cutting edge areas of security technology, with modern IP cameras providing massively detailed sources of video for computers to process. IP cameras encode footage into digital inside the camera. This means that the recorder does not have to do this, and can instead devote it’s processing power to much more advanced detection techniques. Some of the first businesses to make use of such methods were actually American Casinos, who use a national digital database of punters who have been blacklisted for cheating. The software scans a live stream of the gaming floor, automatically notifying them if it flags up a face from the blacklisted database. Such systems are generally still limited to high end commercial security, but will no doubt filter down to smaller users soon.
Of course, overreach of state surveillance is a touchy subject in the post-Snowden world, and this anouncement will no doubt be ringing alarm bells for civil liberites campaigners. Certainly quotes such as this from Andy Ramsey, the force’s Identity Unit can come across as positively creepy:
“Besides the speed it’s also impressive because it can even find family members related to the person we’re trying to identify”
It is easy to put two and two together when looking at these abilities, and start wandering what would happen if they were combined with a national face database, or even the massive cache of webcam images GCHQ have been collecting from sources such as Yahoo. Such concerns are largely moot though, as the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. If the results of this trial end up backing up the force’s claims, there is little doubt this will be rolled out on a much larger scale.