Technology exec: How to face airport security fears
Joseph Atick is the chairman and chief executive officer of Visionics Corp., which markets the face recognition technology system called FaceIt. Atick recently answered questions from CNN about the technology, which the federal government is considering for use in heightening airport security.
CNN: How does face recognition technology work?
ATICK: The human face contains about 80 landmarks between the ears. And those include the bridge of the nose, the tip of the nose, the size of the mouth, the size of the eye, the cheekbone. And a computer program … automatically locates those points on the face. In fact, it only needs about 14 to 20 and then triangulates between them to develop some sort of analytical measurement of your face. It is called a face print. It's like a fingerprint. It's unique to you, and it's only 84 bytes of data.
When the face print in the database matches the live face, then you have a hit, you have a match. And then you can issue a silent alarm, where in a few seconds or minutes somebody will show up to the gate and question that particular passenger.
It can be done at a distance, in a crowd, without subject participation and in motion. And it can also be used by matching against databases already in existence in the intelligence community. We don't have the fingerprints of terrorist groups, but we do have the pictures of terrorist groups.
CNN: Can the system be outsmarted, say with a wig or false beard?
ATICK: We need only 14 to 20 landmarks. We know the face contains 80 landmarks. So we can reconstruct the rest through extrapolation. A beard, false eyebrows, a wig, things like that would not alter the fundamentals. As long as we can see 14 to 20 landmarks, we can get a match.
And if you put a bag over your head, we can trigger an alarm and say, you know, we need to take a closer look at you. You have a bag over your head.
CNN: Could this technology have caught the September 11 terrorists?
ATICK: Knowing what I know about the technology, and knowing that these individuals entered this country through a border checkpoint through Canada, there is a high probability that they would have been identified had FaceIt technology been in place to capture their images … and match them against the databases that they were supposedly included in the watch list.
CNN: But doesn't face recognition infringe upon a passenger's privacy?
ATICK: The technology is blind without a database. This is not a national ID system. Face recognition only spots people who are already on a watch list.
Our company, Visionics, is working to establish privacy guidelines, which we would like to see adopted as public policy. We do not need to give up our freedoms to enjoy security. Face recognition technology IDs suspected criminals but does not keep a record of anybody else passing by. If your face doesn't match a face on the watch list, the image of your face is immediately discarded.
It is time now to start thinking about boarding planes, not as a right but as a privilege granted to those who are willing to go through the security system.
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