The security week that was: 05/07/10

Consumer technology to pay attention to

Reading through my LinkedIn groups this morning, I saw a note from Martijn Kolenbrander, the vice president of business development for VMS/analytics firm VitaminD, that mentioned Face.com, a consumer-grade facial recognition solution. Martijn's message was from The IP Video Security Group, which is a group I'd highly recommend you join if you're involved in video surveillance in any way. I pointed my browser over to Face.com, where I learned that this application has been deployed in Facebook as "Photo Tagger" for automatically tagging photos of friends and family. Basically, this is consumer technology, designed for a consumer purpose that does what many high-end facial analytics software companies would hope to do. So much for the idea that facial recognition comes out of military labs first and spreads to the consumer channel. The same thing exists within Apple Computers' iPhoto picture management program. It has a facial recognition functionality that can learn who is who in your photos and automatically suggest them for identification (so that you can easily build a grouping of photos of specific loved ones).

The application of facial recognition in our professional security industry is clear. If you have a photo of a known suspect, let's call him "Suspect #1", you could have such a system look for all similar faces in your video and still images collection. Maybe Suspect #1 was at your bank one week ago cashing a check and casing the joint. Maybe he parked his Buick in your lot and you, by possibly recognizing him, would know to then find when he parked in your lot and write down that plate number as part of the case investigation. Sure, this is a theoretical example, but it's not that far off, and there are companies like 3VR and others who are doing similar, very important work right here in our industry.

While I've not used the Face.com application, it has some really great reviews. I've played with Apple's comparable solution in iPhoto. It's titled simply "Faces", and it works. While I have a relatively small collection of pictures in iPhoto, I've been reasonably impressed by the quality of this function. Sometimes it has been known to screw up horribly, suggesting a bearded man's photo might be another photo of a female family member (no women in my family have beards, mind you), but in general it performs reasonably well, and often better than "reasonably well".

Now before I laud such systems as ready to overthrow established facial recognition companies in our industry, I want to point out one caveat. When people take photos of their friends, they usually have their friends looking directly at the camera; they have the flash turned on to get a nice picture, and they're using cameras with many megapixels. In our industry, video surveillance cameras rarely have the resolution of your standard consumer-grade point-and-shoot digital camera. Neither do we often control the lighting through an "auto flash fill" feature on these consumer still image cameras. And criminals are usually trying to keep their mugs out of the view of cameras. So, the industry technology has to work at least three times as hard as consumer technology.

We're getting better at giving them higher quality video, though. Camera placements are going to more head-level locations (cameras at eye level at bank teller windows, at eye-level at retail door exits, etc.). Every year, we progress toward higher resolution cameras that have better wide dynamic range for dealing with bad lighting.

Nonetheless, as Martijn Kolenbrander wrote on that LinkedIn group the IPVSG, "I even think that in time they can be disruptive," meaning that this technology could be disruptive to existing industry providers of facial recognition technology. Why? I suspect Martijn would agree with me that because of the huge number of consumer photos they have been used for, they have the user base and tests to considerably refine their product to be very accurate. Face.com's technology, according to its own website, has been used for 7 billion photos already. Although most consumer pictures are better fodder for facial recognition than standard surveillance video feeds, I have to think that at least a million of those photos must have been taken by photographers like me -- photographers who can't seem to focus properly, who choose bad light and a bad camera angle, who have unsteady hands, and who generally take very poor photos. So, maybe consumer technology like Face.com already is dealing with the challenges our industry is faced with in facial recognition.

Times Square bombing attempt summary
What we learned

Ok, I tried to avoid writing this week's "The Security Week That Was" recap letter about the attempted Times Square bombing, but let's hit some quick points on it. Since the attempted bombing, there's been more support for municipal cameras in Manhattan. ... There's been an uproar among the entire country about how an individual on the no-fly list could get onto a Pakistan-bound plane to escape the country, and now there are new protocols in place for checking the no-fly list. ... People are wondering why an individual who was a naturalized citizen wouldn't immediately be charged with treason for such an attempt. ... We know that the risk of car bombings are as real as we all feared, even if one guy couldn't pull it off. ... We know that domestic, home-grown terrorism can be linked to international terror groups. And we know that the investigation skills of the Feds are as good as ever, considering how quickly they located the loose ends and found this suspect, a Mr. Faisal Shahzad.

In other news:
Vendor partnerships, City surveillance training, CLEARly a comeback

Honeywell is now a Creston partner. ... Infinova and NICE Systems announced integration compatibility. ... The Smart Card Alliance has developed a new smart card certification program. ... We've archived our information-packed webinar on "Municipal Surveillance Solutions" with presentations from Atlanta's Downtown Improvement District and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. ... The CLEAR "registered traveler" program is ready for a comeback.

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