Thinking Tech

Facial scans in crowded Istanbul

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Istanbul is about to install three cameras that perform up to 15,000 facial scans a second to ferret out bad actors in a crowd. What's unique about this smart application is that's it's being applied to moving crowds whereas most facial scan systems operate in controlled situations such as airport checkpoints.

An integrated airport checkpoint system that includes full body scans from L3 Communications

Istanbul is about to install three cameras that perform up to 15,000 facial scans a second to ferret out bad actors in a crowd.

What's unique about this smart application is that's it's being applied to moving crowds whereas most facial scan systems operate in controlled situations such as airport checkpoints, according to according to the Turkish news site Samanyoluhaber.com. Cameras match faces it finds in the crowd with the contents of a database and brings the images up on a screen so authorities can act.

Facial scan technology has become so smart that you can run, but can't hide even when ducking for cover in a massive crowd. Google provides a rough English translation of the story which I picked up on Slashdot.

Facial scan technology has been around since the mid-sixties, but the first work on it was for an unnamed intelligence agency so its inventors couldn't speak publicly about it. Now it's very much in the open.

The Bosphorus Strait and Istanbul at left

Indeed, passing through Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam last week, I languished in the manual passport control line while subscribers to the Privium fast border passage program zipped through thanks to iris  scans. Members insert their electronic Privium card, look into the iris scan machine and the gate lifts (I wonder if a giant hook comes out of the ceiling if the iris scan fails to record a match with what's in the Privium database or on the card!)

In April, U.S airports started using controversial full body scans and facial, finger and eye scans have been in some U.S airports for years. However, biometrics, the umbrella term for scanning various body parts, seems to have lost its luster as for being in the public eye so to speak. I presume airports probably don't like to talk about it much which makes sense. Giving away secrets about prevention safeguards just makes it easier for the terrorists.

Facial scan technology is far from perfect. Accurate matches depend on the angle a camera takes when looking at a particular face although 3-D facial scans are helping with that problem. In fact, the London borough of Newham by 2004 had never recognized a criminal after several years of using a facial scan system with local criminals in the database. Anyone who's been to London in the past decade knows it's the camera surveillance capital of the world and now Istanbul is catching up (my son was there a month ago and noticed surveillance cameras everywhere-just knowing they are there is a deterrent in and of itself).

A facial scan camera in Switzerland with an infrared unit to illuminate subjects.

The facial scan system in Istanbul will cost 850,000 Euros initially and will be interesting to monitor as it starts watching crowds. It was developed by four Russian engineers and a person named "Jan Adem of the TRNC" (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). Again, the English translation of the story is a bit sketchy.

The system is part of wider roll-out of electronic identification systems in Turkey, which also includes passes for the two main Bosphorus bridges, much wider of surveillance cameras on buses, ferries and in terminals and national identification cards for social and health programs. Such widespread deployment hasn't escaped the notice of protest groups which claim it's beginning to feel like 1984 in one of the world's oldest cities.

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure