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Face Recognition Software Catching Crooks

Boot Camp feature for Thursday, November 5, 1998

Fighting crime with software that knows the bad guys. I'm Fred Fishkin with Bootcamp, a report on computers and technology. Imagine a system of cameras on the street...linked to computers that can tell when known criminals are in a neighborhood. It's not in the future, the system called Mandrake, is being used today in the borough of Newham in East London in the U.K. Security Director Bob Lack says there are now 144 cameras on the streets...linked to the system...

"And it will automatically, shall we say, examine the faces as they pass the camera and those faces will be matched against a very small database that we hold of known, local, active criminals."

When there's a match, the computer alerts a human being. The system uses FaceIt face recognition software from a company called Visionics, where CEO Dr. Joseph Atick says

"It is doing what a watchguard would be doing. Looking out for criminals who are targeting the community, who are mugging people, who are commiting crimes on the street.

While official figures aren't being released, the system has had a dramatic impact on crime in just a couple of weeks. It can scan faces in a crowd in a fraction of a second. Dr. Atick knows some might call it scary...

"I'd like to emphasize here the responsible use of technology. I mean every innovation can be scary from one perspective or another."

The technology is being used in some countries now in airports to scan for suspected terrorists.