Human Tagging Roles Out in the U.S.

Thanks to Apple’s “timely” release of eye and face scanning technology on its iPhone, now the slaves that enjoyed the convenience of such technology will have to submit to it.

Reuters
July 20, 2011

Dozens of police departments nationwide are gearing up to use a tech company’s already controversial iris- and facial-scanning device that slides over an iPhone and helps identify a person or track criminal suspects.

The so-called “biometric” technology, which seems to take a page from TV shows like “MI-5” or “CSI,” could improve speed and accuracy in some routine police work in the field. However, its use has set off alarms with some who are concerned about possible civil liberties and privacy issues.

The smartphone-based scanner, named Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System, or MORIS, is made by BI2 Technologies in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and can be deployed by officers out on the beat or back at the station.

An iris scan, which detects unique patterns in a person’s eyes, can reduce to seconds the time it takes to identify a suspect in custody. This technique also is significantly more accurate than results from other fingerprinting technology long in use by police, BI2 says.

When attached to an iPhone, MORIS can photograph a person’s face and run the image through software that hunts for a match in a BI2-managed database of U.S. criminal records. Each unit costs about $3,000.

Some experts fret police may be randomly scanning the population, using potentially intrusive techniques to search for criminals, sex offenders, and illegal aliens, but the manufacturer says that would be a difficult task for officers to carry out.

Sean Mullin, BI2’s CEO, says it is difficult, if not impossible, to covertly photograph someone and obtain a clear, usable image without that person knowing about it, because the MORIS should be used close up.

“It requires a level of cooperation that makes it very overt — a person knows that you’re taking a picture for this purpose,” Mullin said.

CONCERNS

But constitutional rights advocates are concerned, in part because the device can accurately scan an individual’s face from up to four feet away, potentially without a person’s being aware of it.

Experts also say that before police administer an iris scan, they should have probable cause a crime has been committed.

“What we don’t want is for them to become a general surveillance tool, where the police start using them routinely on the general public, collecting biometric information on innocent people,” said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the national ACLU in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, advocates see the MORIS as a way to make tools already in use on police cruiser terminals more mobile for cops on the job.

“This is (the technology) stepping out of the cruiser and riding on the officer’s belt, along with his flashlight, his handcuffs, his sidearm or the other myriad tools,” said John Birtwell, spokesman for the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department in southeastern Massachusetts, one of the first departments to use the devices.

The technology is also employed to maintain security at Plymouth’s 1,650 inmate jail, where it is used to prevent the wrong prisoner from being released.

“There, we have everybody in orange jumpsuits, so everyone looks the same. So, quite literally, the last thing we do before you leave our facility is we compare your iris to our database,” said Birtwell.

One of the technology’s earliest uses at BI2, starting in 2005, was to help various agencies identify missing children or at-risk adults, like Alzheimer’s patients.

Since then, it has been used to combat identity fraud, and could potentially be used in traffic stops when a driver is without a license, or when people are stopped for questioning at U.S. borders.

Facial recognition technology is not without its problems, however. For example, some U.S. individuals mistakenly have had their driver’s license revoked as a potential fraud. The problem, it turns out, is that they look like another driver and so the technology mistakenly flags them as having fake identification.

Roughly 40 law enforcement units nationwide will soon be using the MORIS, including Arizona’s Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, as well as officers in Hampton City in Virginia and Calhoun County in Alabama.

Facebook in new privacy row over facial recognition feature

Social network turns on new feature to automatically identify people in photos, raising questions about privacy implications of the service.

UK Guardian
June 8, 2011

Facebook has come under fire for quietly expanding the availability of technology to automatically identify people in photos, renewing concerns about its privacy practices.

The feature, which the giant social network automatically enabled for its more than 500 million users, has been expanded from the US to “most countries”, Facebook said on its official blog on Tuesday.

Marc Rotenberg, president of the non-profit privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the system raised questions about which personally identifiable information, such as email addresses, would become associated with the photos in Facebook’s database.

He also criticised Facebook’s decision to automatically enable the facial-recognition technology for its users.

“I’m not sure that’s the setting that people would want to choose. A better option would be to let people opt-in,” he said.

Internet security consultancy Sophos noted that many Facebook users had seen the facial recognition option turned on without any notice in the last few days.

“Yet again, it feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth,” commented Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos.

Facebook’s “Tag Suggestions” feature uses facial recognition technology to speed up the process of labeling friends and acquaintances in photos posted on the site.

Facebook has been repeatedly criticised for changing settings involving privacy and identity in favour of making more data public in ways that means its users have to opt out of, rather than opt in to, the service.

Facebook, which announced in December that it planned to introduce the facial recognition service in the US, acknowledged that the feature was now more widely available.

The site also said in an emailed statement that “we should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them”.

The statement noted that the photo-tagging suggestions are only made when new photos are added to Facebook, that only friends are suggested and that users can disable the feature in their privacy settings.

While other photo software and online services such as Google Inc’s Picasa and Apple Inc’s iPhoto use facial recognition technology, its use on a social network like Facebook could raise thorny privacy issues.

Google has stepped away from the widespread implementation of its Google Goggles service, which would try to identify people based on facial recognition through mobile phones running its Android operating system. Instead it only uses it for translating text and identifying objects. Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, said earlier in June that he had concerns about its use with people.

“We do have the relevant facial recognition technology at our disposal. But we haven’t implemented this on Google Goggles because we want to consider the privacy implications and how this feature might be added responsibly,” he said. “I’m very concerned personally about the union of mobile tracking and face recognition.”

Rotenberg noted that Apple’s iPhoto software gave users control over facial recognition technology by letting them elect whether or not to use it with their personal photo collections.

Facebook’s technology, by contrast, operates independently, analysing faces across a broad swathe of newly uploaded photos.

Last year the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint about Facebook’s privacy practices with the US Federal Trade Commission, which Rotenberg said was still pending.

He noted that he planned to take a close look at Facebook’s new announcement involving facial recognition technology.