Facial recognition aids immigration crackdown in Australia

Image courtesy of australiantest.com
Image courtesy of australiantest.com

Illegal workers seem to be a given in various industries around the world, but now Australia has begun cracking own on those looking to exploit the system. How? With computer vision, of course.

Immigration officials in the land down under are using facial recognition software to identify people who have either created new identities or stolen those of legitimate persons in order to obtain employment.

In a recent raid on farm workers, six illegal persons were detained for over-staying their visas and working. This kind of capture not only causes problems for the illegal person, but also for the employers, who can be charges up to $66,000 for each illegal worker. Specific detail about what kind of programs are being used was not provided, but could entail collaborating with state and federal agency databases in Australia and abroad.


Drones use computer vision and 3D mapping to aid humans

Photo by U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain
Photo by U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain

Droids have been getting a lot of attention in the news today, but mostly on the negative end of the spectrum. However, droids can also be used for good, which some companies are doing.

South Africa’s SteadiDrone and Switzerland’s SenseFly are two examples of companies producing drones that can aid humans. These machines fly over an area and are able to get a full picture, literally, of what is going on below, by mapping out what the terrain looks like.

Military units and space programs have been using similar devices for years; by sending in a machine beforehand, it can view and assess the risk, giving the user eyes to gauge a situation before being exposed to potential problems. What other ways might drones be used for good, both in the professional and personal realms?


Infrared camera aimed at individuals drunk in public

Photo courtesy of flickr user _sml

Although talk of facial recognition has been aimed at finding people guilty of alleged crimes or recognizing individuals for industry-related purposes, a new use has been found for this technology: identifying drunk people.

A paper published in the International Journal of Electronic Security and Digital Forensics discusses a new infrared-camera algorithm developed at the University of Patras in Greece. It focuses on the heat dispersion on the faces of people in a crowd, paying attention to where blood vessels dilate at the skin’s surface. Drunk individuals tend to have more heat on their noses and less on their foreheads, information that could be beneficial to law enforcement officers in the field who are trying to detect from afar whether or not someone is under the influence of alcohol.

This blog is sponsored by ImageGraphicsVideo, a company offering ComputerVision Software Development Services.

Protecting against invasion of privacy

Facial recognition is a hot topic when it comes to identifying suspects and finding criminals, but these are only ways in which it can help aid society. However, many citizens have voiced concerns that along with facial recognition technology comes an unwanted invasion of privacy, according to an article recently posted on CNN.

This concern, of course, is not new, but the decreasing costs and increasing availability of facial recognition technology have made it much more relavant.

Those who are worried can rest a bit easy; the technology available is not yet intelligent enough to automatically match a face on the street with a person in a computer. Such a search would take hours to complete.

However, there are applications, such as a new iPhone one, which is able to use photos of a person – either real or from the Internet – and compile information such as gender and birthdate, to guess the person’s social security number. Watch the following video for more on this:


So how do people protect themselves from being photographed against their will? What happens if and/or when facial recognition technology becomes so commonplace that its use extends beyond law enforcement to include business owners and any given person on the street?

Facial recognition’s multifaceted uses

Facial recognition software created a stir in the wake of the London riots this past summer, as it provided authorities with a way to identify perpetrators in a crowd. And although the technology hasn’t evolved enough to regularly outdo traditional methods of identification, it’s only a matter of time before it might.

This brings up the question of how riots, which are spontaneous and unpredictable by nature, might somehow evolve if individuals on the streets are aware that they’re being videotaped and watched nearly everywhere they go.

And while some footage might not reveal much, advances in the industry have made it so there is the possibility that multiple cameras could collaborate on information, tracking the movements of an individual across a specified amount of distance and time. This means that a rioter who has disguised himself on the streets could – in theory – be followed home, where different or better footage could more easily identify him.

Someone bent on not being recognized could still evade detection via this method, but facial recognition technology has opened up other possibilities. One of the scariest is the ability for programs to match photographs with personal information compiled from the Internet, something which many people disperse freely without thinking of how that information can potentially be used.

But the outlook isn’t entirely grim, as these same computer algorithms can be used to find missing persons in a crowd or even criminals on the run. Still, those are extreme cases. Even on a smaller scale, facial recognition could be used to track athletes on the field or in a race. And that isn’t all. What practical or positive uses for facial recognition can you think of?

Facial recognition used to catch London rioters

Facial recognition is in the news again, this time in conjunction with the rioting that took place in London last week. According to an article by the Associated Press, law enforcement officials have begun entering pictures of suspects into the Scotland Yard database, in hopes of matching up offenders with a criminal history.

Press officials with the Scotland Yard announced that facial recognition technology is only being used to identify and track down the extreme perpetrators, and that old-fashioned methods of spreading pictures (in newspapers, on television, on hand-distributed fliers) are much more effective. An article in the March 2010 edition of The Job, Scotland Yard’s bi-monthly magazine, said the pictures in the database are of persons who already have a crime record.

However, the article also mentioned that photos of faces taken from “mobile phones, surveillance photographs, passports, passes and even the internet” could be used to identify individuals. This information takes facial recognition one step further, because it no longer limits the pool of suspects to those with a criminal record – something which many individuals view as a breach of privacy.

Furthermore, this technology may be implemented at the 2012 Olympics in London as a security measure. The possible controversy with this is whether the technology will be used preventatively or curatively.

Interestingly enough, it turns out police aren’t the only people working to identify rioters; there is a new Google Group, “London Riots Facial Recognition,” which is working to do the same thing. The only difference is the group is made up of civilians intent on using facial recognition technology at hand to assist in finding perpetrators.

Facial profiling on its way to a police officer near you?

Racial profiling: step aside. It seems facial profiling is the new hot topic. Late last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that law enforcement officers across the country would begin carrying hand-held facial-recognition devices in September, which brought issues of privacy to the forefront of the minds of many.

But are people rightfully worried?

The biometric device in question, known as MORIS, can identify people based on their faces, irises and fingerprints. But news about this product makes facial recognition sound easier than it actually is.

For example, MORIS cannot identify people blindly; it must have a database to draw from. The smaller a database is, the easier it is for the device to work, because the margin of error is less. And the technology isn’t advanced enough to be able to easily pick out a face in a crowd; something like a security camera at an airport could capture live footage, but would likely be unable to place terrorists in a group of hundreds or thousands.

The actual database in question is criminal in nature; the following graphic is the Wall Street Journal’s rendition of how the tool and the database work together:

Image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal

This kind of technology could, however, have practical uses for a company with high security. Employees could be issued keycards which, when scanned at an entrance, then activate computer-vision software. This software would scan the face of the person at the door, validating identity and linking each key with an individual face. The proper combination of a person’s key and the corresponding face in the database would then unlock a door.

Interestingly enough, the term facial recognition is familiar to many, but the definition most people are familiar with doesn’t completely encapsulate exactly what kind of technology this is, and what it does.

In short: facial recognition requires a database to draw from in order to complete a task. But there does exist another technology, known as object recognition, which can find and identify an object within a series of images or videos, even if the objects are distorted or partially hidden.