Facial recognition fail E-mail
Written by APB Staff   

In the post 9/11 world, we’ve tried to protect ourselves as a nation with largely high-tech, product-based solutions as opposed to human resources. We’ve spent billions on no-fly lists and terrorist watch lists so large that they’re essentially useless. We’ve purchased “bomb-proof” trashcans for subway platforms and bus stations. Odds are that if you were trying to sell something for “counter-terrorism applications” in the last decade you had more sales leads than you could handle. So how did all that technology work out in the recent Boston Marathon bombings? “Not so good,” would be a polite way of saying it.

Despite a high-profile online social media presence and their inclusion in several competing databases at various federal agencies, no one knew who the Tsarnev brothers were until the images, released from a department store’s security camera, went public.

But what about the Boston PD’s high-end facial recognition software?

Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis recently told the Washington Post that the department’s facial recognition system “did not identify” the two bombing suspects.

“The technology came up empty even though both Tsarnaevs’ images exist in official databases: Dzhokhar had a Massachusetts driver’s license; the brothers had legally immigrated; and Tamerlan had been the subject of some FBI investigation,” the Post reported recently.

So why didn’t the technology work?

Experts say facial recognition systems can’t deal with grainy, low-resolution images captured at a distance from a cellphone camera or surveillance video.

In fact the technology only works as advertised when there’s a high-quality image to work with.

But just because something doesn’t work doesn’t mean people will stop buying product.

The FBI, the agency that decided to wait three days to release images of the bombing suspects, is expected to release a large-scale facial recognition apparatus next year for members of the Western Identification Network, a consortium of police agencies in California and eight other Western states, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

What did work was surveillance footage from a store’s security camera. In a remarkable twist, the Tsarnev’s mother Zubeidat Tsarnaev was busted for felony shoplifting from that very store years ago using footage from the same camera

It’s truly a testament to the commercial approach to national security that no one’s asking why none of the technology taxpayers have spent billions on since 9/11 didn’t work.

Facial recognition software, to be sure, can work.

But not in an environment where a complete failure to share intelligence from agency to agency is the norm 12 years after September 11, 2001.


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