|Montréal, 14 avril 2001 / No 81||
by Ralph Maddocks
Last January, it must have been a bit of a surprise for the 100,000 football fans of the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants at the Super Bowl to discover afterwards that almost every attendee had his face scanned by a video camera. Like the surveillance cameras used in corner stores and at cash points, the cameras used at the Super Bowl captured images of people in a public place. The difference though was that the cameras were connected to computers that scanned the images at a rate of about one per second and compared them to known criminals.
The test project was conducted using biometric technology furnished by Graphco Technologies Inc., a Pennsylvania-based database and
Each questionable match at the game was flashed side by side onto a computer screen at a stadium command post where a police officer determined whether the faces were those of the same person. It is claimed that the turnstile images were then discarded.
So incensed by this were the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that they immediately demanded that Tampa city officials should hold public hearings to answer questions about the use of
The police, as might be expected, responded that their goal was to avoid trouble before it began, bolstering their argument by reminding us that US courts have ruled that in such a situation there can be no expectation of privacy. They also mentioned that warning notices were displayed outside the stadium. Evoking images of an Orwellian Big brother, the cameras were also alleged to have been used because of fear that terrorists might use a well-attended event like the Super Bowl to make some memorable statement, like liquidating half the audience. While the police speak of it as a benign new law enforcement tactic, no more intrusive than the use of a video camera at a convenience store or cash point, there is reason to fear this growing use by police agencies of digital databases of physical traits.
Police said the video/computer scanning system, which was also used at the nearby Ybor City entertainment district as well as the stadium, made 19 matches during Super Bowl week but none of those identified had committed crimes that warranted arrest. Another report mentioned that the system did identify a ticket scalper – who vanished into the crowd! Hardly a cost beneficial exercise, but then costs are rarely if ever important to public officials.
The manufacturer claimed that the system is less intrusive than normal convenience store video surveillance, which captures and keeps the images of mostly innocent people. The project manager was quoted as saying,
Watching over us
It will be recalled (see HAVE ORWELL'S PREDICTIONS COME TRUE?, le QL, no 28) that the East London borough of Newham in England installed such a system in its streets in 1998. Today, three years later, they claim that there has been a drop in the crime rate and that Newnham now has 300 cameras permanently installed in the centre of the town and at public transport exits. A town security official described the system last year, as less like Big Brother than
QL readers with a passion for gambling will already know that most, if not all, the Casinos use face-recognition technology to identify card counters and other patrons whom they consider to be undesirable. As these cameras become more and more ubiquitous we are losing our anonymity, and despite the claims of various police authorities there are absolutely no guarantees that these images are being destroyed. In fact it is quite obvious that they are not.
Just the other day an official, linked to the forthcoming exercise in freedom of speech – for 34 national leaders at least – in Quebec, mentioned that they had the photos of known demonstrators from Seattle. So while one might wonder about the cost of storing all these images there can be little doubt that it is being done.
Two years ago, thousands of Americans objected on privacy grounds when they learned that their driver's licence photographs were being sold by states to a private company that wanted to create a national database for use by retailers to combat fraud. The states, reacting to the outcry, cancelled the project. Here in this province, as in others, we have our photographs on our driving licences. Nobody asked us if they could do it, and indeed if anyone did ever complain the regulation was not rescinded.
Canadians have become very complacent when it come to trusting the governments we elect. Can anyone be sure that these photos, along with those from other sources, have not found a permanent resting-place in the bowels of some police computer? All just waiting for an opportunity to be compared to photographs taken at some public event.
Human bar codes
No matter where we go today someone is recording us, on erasable tape at the very least, and this is a practice not confined to our governments but is used in private companies as well. Whether we go to our local convenience store, use one of the ubiquitous cash points or pump gas into our cars, our every movement is being recorded. With the exponentially expanding business of biometrics, no matter what plausible explanation is given for using it, our privacy is being invaded as never before.
Fingerprints are still the most widely used biometric tool, but other methods of identification through biometrics are coming into general use, such as voice prints and iris scans. Additionally, in the early stages of development, there are a number of other techniques, some of which are quite unusual and rather obscure. One example, a company in the United Kingdom now holds the patent on a technology that will identify individuals based upon blood vessel patterns on the back of the hand. Other systems analyse sweat pores on a fingertip, use infrared cameras to find
The range of biometrics is as diverse and imaginative as the potential number of the body parts capable of being scanned. The following techniques are the more common biometric technologies in use today.
There are two different kinds of Eye Scan, iris and retinal, the former digitally processes, records and compares the light and dark patterns in the iris' flecks and rings, and could be envisaged as being similar to a human bar code. Many claim that this technique is more accurate than a fingerprint and can be employed at such a distance that the person being scanned is totally unaware of it. Doubtless a technique which induces feelings of anticipatory joy to our ever-intrusive police forces. Others say that such systems can easily be fooled. One system being tested by researchers discovered that university students who wore patterned
Facial recognition technology is already in use at some US border crossings. The term covers several different techniques, such as video or photo imaging; thermography, which reads the heat pattern around the eyes and cheeks and scans the dimensions of an individual's head. This type of biometric is not nearly as accurate as fingerprinting, because a similar face or a change in lighting or appearance can confuse the system. The US Department of Defence research department has created a programme called Image Understanding for Force Protection (IUFP). This project was started after the 1996 terrorist bombing of the US military barracks in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 people. The goal was to create new technologies to identify humans at a distance with one of the systems proposed being modelled after the Newham system.
Hand Geometry scans and reads the outline or the shape of a shadow, not the handprint. It can be used for all types of access, but is not particularly accurate. While this is a quick and sturdy method of verifying identity, too many people have similar hand shapes and sizes for such a system to be dependable in situations requiring high security.
Voice recognition technology also has been used at US border crossings. Voice, or speaker, recognition employs positive identification that, in this instance, verifies that the person crossing the border is the person already entered in the database. Some voice and speaker recognition techniques are extremely susceptible to background noise and may not provide accurate verification if, for example, a speaker has a cold.
The area of identification by a person's handwriting has drawn the attention of the US Secret Service's Forensic Science Division which has developed the Forensic Information System for Handwriting (FISH) based on work carried out by German law enforcement in the 1980s. FISH takes a block of text, and then plots the handwriting as arithmetic and geometric values. Signature recognition programs, however, read signatures written on an electronic pad by measuring the speed, pressure, and direction of the strokes.
During the last few years, perhaps no other biometric technique has been the subject of media attention than that of DNA matching. In 1998, the FBI's Laboratory Division established CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), an electronic database of DNA profiles that can identify suspects, similar to the AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) database. Every State is in the process of implementing a DNA index of individuals convicted of certain crimes, such as rape, murder, and child abuse. Upon conviction a person's DNA profile is entered into the DNA database. Just as fingerprints found at a crime scene can be run through AFIS, DNA profiles from a crime scene can now be entered into CODIS in search of a suspect or link to another crime scene. Thus, the police have the ability to identify possible suspects when no prior suspect existed.
No matter how ingenious these technologies may be. No matter how potentially useful they may appear in varying situations. The law of unintended consequences will ensure that they become part of the array of weapons deployed against us in the never-ending governmental intrusion into the little privacy remaining to each of us.
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