Facial recognition software flops in US trials


4 September 2003 Facial recognition systems touted as the solution to capturing terrorists and other dangerous fugitives have flopped dismally in trials at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts.

Initially touted as a way of identifying known, dangerous terrorists in airports and other crowded environments, the trials have proved that the software is unable to identify people with a high enough degree of accuracy, according to a report written after the Logan Airport trial.

“The number of system-generated false positives was excessive,” concluded the report, recently obtained under freedom of information regulations.

The airport had installed two separate facial recognition systems at security checkpoints at the airport. However, they failed to detect volunteers posing as terrorists 96 times during the three months that the trial was running, despite successfully picking them up 153 times.

Logan Airport was where 10 of the 19 terrorists involved in the 11 September terror attacks on New York boarded their flights. But despite the failure of facial recognition software, the airport is still testing other biometric technologies, including retinal scanners.

The authorities at Logan Airport are not the only people to find that facial recognition technology cannot live up to the hype. Police in Tampa, Florida in August announced that they were discontinuing the use of facial recognition because it had failed to provide any benefit in catching criminals.

Police in Virginia Beach, Virginia are experiencing similar problems. The system they are trialing has so far been unable to match a single person to any of the 30,000 faces it is capable of storing. Nevertheless, that trial has not yet been abandoned.

However, in more limited environments, facial recognition software has proved to be more accurate. Grampian Police in Scotland are using it to help identify suspects already in custody.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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