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New tech for security

Facial recognition could help to reduce bias and protect innocent members of the public, whilst ensuring justice is brought to the guilty, says Adrian Timberlake, pictured, chief technical officer at defence firm Seven Technologies Group.

In many high-tech cities, CCTV surveillance is a common sight, but how effective is this surveillance in aiding police to catch criminals and secure justice for victims and their families? The best evidence of CCTV’s impact on police investigations comes from a recent UK study which examined more than 250,000 crimes recorded on the British railway network over a five-year period. The study found that CCTV footage was useful to police investigations in two-thirds of cases. Additionally, CCTV surveillance was found to be particularly useful for solving violent crime.

But CCTV is far from a perfect system. Image quality varies, and even with good quality images, the amount of police appeals to the public for identification of suspects in CCTV footage proves that there is a need for tools to link identities to images of faces quickly. Quick arrests are crucial for safeguarding victims and the general public, especially in cases of violent crime.

Unlike CCTV, which relies on image and footage capture alone, facial recognition uses biometric measurements to match identities to images. Biometrics include, as an example, incremental measurements of the distance between the eyes and the length of facial bones. Use of biometrics in suspect identification could improve both speed and accuracy in crime investigations and could lead to quicker resolutions for victims of crime.

Additionally, software platforms like our i7ense, which combines AI technologies including facial recognition and weapons detection, can be programmed to recognise sequences and patterns in developing threats and can provide an alert to law enforcement personnel as potentially dangerous situations develop. This enables law enforcement to have greater awareness of rapidly developing threats, which could ultimately lead to the prevention of serious and violent crime.

New technologies and surveillance

Research shows that the human eye can’t always be trusted. A 2009 study that examined participants’ ability to correctly identify a culprit from a line-up found that age and gender of eye-witnesses impacted the accuracy of line-up identifications, and that same-race identification performance is superior to other race identification. What the results of the study suggest in terms of real-life consequences is terrifying. There is critical need to safeguard against human error and possible bias in criminal investigations; the results of mistakes could be extremely detrimental to people’s lives.

While two very similar faces may be indistinguishable to the naked eye, such as that of identical twins, research suggests that some parts of facial structure even in identical twins can vary. Facial recognition technology, therefore, holds the potential to achieve a high level of accuracy in correctly identifying a perpetrator between a choice of two faces that would appear identical to a human. The potential benefits of integrating this capability into policing are huge; greater levels of accuracy in face-identity matches could be the key to ending accidental bias and human error.

Surveillance can also serve to protect law-abiding members of the public from false accusations. Consider the recent case of US citizen Amy Cooper, who was caught on camera making a false accusation that a birdwatcher was threatening her life on an emergency call. Although in this example the footage was captured on the victim’s personal camera, it shows the potential of surveillance to combat false accusations.

Criminal justice

Facial recognition technology grows in accuracy month by month. After rapid developments owing in part to the pandemic, it can now discern identities even with facial occlusion (when the face is covered by a medical mask or scarf), and the future holds the possibility of a perfect identification system. Absolute accuracy would mean that anyone caught committing a crime could be prosecuted, and any persons who had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time should be absolved.

So far, facial recognition technology has been used to find missing children and victims of human trafficking, helped police to find a suspect of violent crime in the UK, and recently led to the discovery of a murder in China. While it’s understandable that the public are concerned about the possibility of a powerful new technology being misused by bad actors, the usefulness of new technologies in policing cannot be denied.

Regulations around appropriate use of facial recognition will be the key to reaping the advantages in public safety and security, while protecting individuals’ privacy and ensuring that bad actors cannot misuse the technology for their own agendas.

As violent and knife crime continue to rise, the need for new technologies to help revolutionise public safety and security has never been greater.


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