18 Oct 2011

Police harness facial recognition technology

The concept of facial recognition technology, whereby a computer can scan and analyse faces and recognise individuals, is fast becoming a familiar part of our everyday lives.

Social media giant Facebook rolled out their facial recognition software in December last year. The site automatically ‘suggests’ who the faces in uploaded photos belong to based on the photos it already has access to.

Now the Metropolitan Police – the territorial police force responsible for Greater London – plans to use facial recognition technology to fight crime.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe hopes the advances in technology will reduce crime and help rebuild the police’s relationship with the public.

Mr Hogan-Howe said: “There’s great technology out there that we’ve started to see on Facebook. On many other internet devices, facial recognition is growing rapidly. What we need to do is apply that technology to CCTV of criminals.”

His comments follow a notice published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) by the force for a command and control solution. The nine-year framework agreement will include related software development, configuration and support services.

The software will be expected to handle about six million annual incoming calls (emergency, non-emergency and internal), with a peak total of 2600 calls in a busy hour.

The OJEU notice could also include ‘other associated technologies, such as voice and CCTV communications, mobile in-car devices, mobile telemetry and call routing from the public network and the internal network, depending on the suitability of the technology choices, the deployment options and the contract terms’.

Similar facial recognition software has been implemented at Heathrow airport’s terminals one and five. Trials carried out by BAA and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) indicated that the technology can deliver an average verification time of 4.7 seconds.

Versions of facial recognition software have been around for about ten years, but previously not enough photos of individuals existed for the technology to be feasible for anti-crime use.

Today’s interactive media has changed all that: around 250 million pictures are uploaded to Facebook each day.

The FBI is also embracing biometrics and embarking on a nationwide face recognition service which will also allow local police to identify suspects. The move is part of a $1 billion overhaul of their existing fingerprint database.