Federal Government is Making Headway with Facial Scanning Surveillance

Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS)

Biometric Optical Surveillance System According to newly disclosed documents the Federal Government is making great progress with the development of a surveillance system that will automatically identify people by their faces. This surveillance pairs computers with video cameras to scan crowds and instantly identify people by their faces.

The automated system of matching close-up photos has shown great improvement recently. FaceBook uses it regularly with photos on their site, but without question, the Department of Homeland Security will use equipment that’s second to none. Their system has the power to identify faces in a moving crowd.

Homeland Security is working with a crowd-scanning machine called the Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS). The system is not ready for the road yet but according to researchers they are making significant progress.

The release of these documents comes in the middle of a host of interest in surveillance and security matters which originated by Edward J. Snowden; known as the whistleblower.

Research for the BOSS system started as an effort to assist the military in detecting potential suicide bombers and other terrorists overseas. BOSS was later transferred to the United States law enforcement for use in 2010; which falls under the Department of Homeland Security.

There is no definite date when the BOSS system will go live. It’s still in the development process but is making great strides toward a  powerful finish. Anil Jain, a specialist in computer vision and biometrics, said she believes they are looking at a minimum of five years before its ready. However, Jain is not involved in the BOSS project.

In order to build the BOSS surveillance a two year, $5.2M federal contract was issued to a company called Electronic Warfare Associates. Major progress has already been made using automated face recognition using photos taken under ideal conditions. The FBI is spending $1 billion to institute a more innovative system that will make available a national mug shot database for local police departments to use when verifying identities.

Crowd surveillance, especially from a distance, is a more complicated process. In crowds faces tend to be partially hidden  along with the possibility of weather conditions affecting lighting. The BOSS research is preparing to conquer those obstacles by the generation of greater  information.

BOSS is made up of two towers with robotic camera structures. These cameras use distance and infrared sensor mechanisms which take multiple pictures from different angles. These photos are then made into 3-D images which allow different points on a face to be included in the comparison.

Homeland Security used the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to test the BOSS system. Analysis was made by using 30 volunteers whose facial data would be intertwined in a database with 1,000 mug shots to see whether the system could consistently identify any of the volunteers.

After performing six tests it was determined that the technology’s overall accuracy was not quite ready and police departments should not yet use it.

Electronic Warfare Associates, Ed Tivol, said their goal was to have  a match of at least 80 percent from a range of about 100 meters. He said the goal was reached from a closer distance but when tested from distances farther away the accuracy fell below 70 percent. He also raved about how fast the system processed images; which was under 30 seconds. He said the results had been increasingly positive and showed great improvement with each test.

Even with the great reviews they all agreed that 30 seconds is not fast enough for security purposes. With this percentage of inaccuracy and low speed they would run the risk of unnecessarily involving too many innocent people.

For more than a decade there have been hints of building this type of system. Initially it was primarily for high-profile concerns such as searching for terrorism suspects in an inaugural parade for the president, looking for fugitives in crowded sections of New York or even identifying card swindlers in busy casinos.

Even though there have been great advances in computer power, the technical challenges involved when scanning crowds from a distance have proven to be far more difficult. This process of scanning is still too slow and not yet reliable enough.

Boss may not be release ready yet but the federal government is making significant progress with the development of this surveillance system.

By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)

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