Facial Recognition: How Policy Can Catch Up to the Technology

Facial recognition (FR) stands at a critical point in its development.

The technology is racing forward and improving rapidly. Adoption of FR tools as a law enforcement asset is growing. It’s now commonly accessible by police agencies nationwide.

And beyond its original applications in the military, counter-terrorism and law enforcement, the technology is improving other sectors, such as aviation and travel, hospitality, healthcare, financial services and retail.

Yet public understanding of FR lags behind. And, driven by incorrect popular perceptions, public policies that would ban or over-regulate FR’s use seem ill-informed and out of step with present realities.

This poses a challenge to those of us committed to the success and propagation of FR: How can we ensure that public perception — and policymakers’ perception — of FR is better aligned with the technology’s value to society, and, specifically, to law enforcement?

Recently I had the privilege of moderating a blue-ribbon panel of FR leaders who assembled to tackle this precise question.

The panel convened for the 33rd Annual International Biometrics Association User Conference — formerly known as the AFIS Internet User Conference – in Scottsdale AZ.

“We’ve got to get better at helping policymakers understand the value and positive outcomes of this technology,” said Ashwini Jarral, executive director of the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, setting the tone for the discussion. “That way, we can go and fix these policies and laws.”

It was heartening to see our panelists rapidly establish a consensus around at least three themes:

Theme #1: Educate policymakers and the public on two key points: Propelled by misapprehensions, some municipalities have banned FR in law enforcement. Leveraging public education as a basic push-back strategy, the panel recommended two areas of focus:

First, the public isn’t distinguishing between FR as an investigative tool and as a surveillance tool. People need to understand that FR doesn’t mean constant video surveillance. It’s not “Big Brother,” rather it’s used for investigatory leads.

“Investigation and surveillance are two different things completely,” said Lt. Derek Sabatini of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “Detroit and Chicago, for example, have large surveillance systems, but these systems don’t include live facial recognition. Facial recognition tools are only used for investigative purposes.”

Secondly, the public seems unaware of procedural safeguards already in place to regulate the use of FR.

“This is not the ‘Wild West,’” said Lt. Sabatini. “There are governance systems that mandate that you must have a right to know and a need to know before you can access that data. There are criminal penalties if you misuse that data.”

“People mistakenly think that sweeping and universally accessible databases are being freely shared between states and the federal government,” said Tovah LaDier, executive director of the International Biometrics + Identity Association. “In fact, states must give individual permission for the federal agencies to permit access.”

Existing federal legislation provides that states may enter into agreements with the FBI to provide state-level department of motor vehicle (DMV) database access, only for the specific purpose of assisting the FBI in fulfilling its law enforcement responsibilities.

Theme #2: Publicize FR’s positive track record: Popular fears of FR overreach are disproven by the technology’s excellent performance in law enforcement.

Lt. Sabatini told the conference that Los Angeles County has been using FR as an investigative resource since 2009, and deployed it in 11,000 cases last year alone. Yet the County has never faced a civil liberties court challenge charging abuse. He said that the New York Police Department had leveraged FR for 7,000 investigations last year, which had helped generate some 1,000 “legitimate arrests.”

Faith Contreras, the Facial Recognition Program Administrator for the Arizona Department of Transportation, pointed to successes in child trafficking and child smuggling. She said it’s also been used to investigate a range of cold cases and to identify unknown deceased individuals.
 
Theme #3: Embed governance capabilities within the technology: Panelists concurred that when it comes to protections relating to such matters as privacy and consent, the desired policy objectives have to actually be built into the technology.

“You can write policies all day long,” said Mr. Jarral. “But if you can’t demonstrate that your policies are actually embedded within the technology, you’re going to lose this battle.”


At the panel’s closing, Ms. LaDier affirmed her association’s commitment to the “transparent and secure use” of FR and related technologies. She also announced the forthcoming launch of a “responsibleid.org” site that would serve as an educational platform and a repository of “good news” about FR.

“Any technology can be used properly, and it can be abused,” she said. “Considering facial recognition’s enormous benefits, we cannot ban the technology. We have to do the hard work to regulate it so that it is used properly.”

Biometrics are Revolutionizing Airports and the Passenger Experience

The airport travel experience has remained constant for a LONG time. For many of us, words like “unpredictable,” “slow,” and “frustrating” immediately come to mind. I spend a lot of time in airports, and can personally affirm that the international pursuit of innovation within the aviation industry could not be more obvious or focused than it is right now.


Your usual experience: arrive at the airport, wait in a line to get your ticket, wait in a line for security, then wait in a line to board your plane—and until just a few years ago, this was generally the case. However, as other fields have proven the advantages of certain technologies, applications to and acceptance by commercial aviation has become more and more apparent. Biometric solutions have especially begun revolutionizing the airport experience for all stakeholders involved – travelers, airlines, airport operations, vendors, government, and law enforcement.


About five years ago, biometrics did the same for the mobile device industry—and before that, fingerprints were only associated with law enforcement. Today, fingerprints have become ubiquitous as a quick and easy replacement for our passwords, allowing us to unlock everything from our phones to our bank accounts, with a single press. The ease of use has made life a lot simpler for users, and a lot more secure for providers.


That same convenience and security is now being brought to the airport environment, by leveraging all the technological innovations that have been produced over the last ten years.


In fact, at the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) Airport Innovation Forum this year, our session was “Know Your Customer: Leveraging Personalization and Innovation in the Passenger Experience”, and focused on how airports around the world are engaging with new and innovative solutions that bring the real benefits of self-service and automation to modernize the airport experience for everyone.


During the 2019 AAAE Airport Innovation forum in Chicago, many speakers got up on stage to show how technology is revolutionizing the airport. From self-driving vehicles to optimization of back office operations, to facial recognition and analytics that reduce wait times using dynamic content displays, a digital transformation in the aviation environment is definitely under way. And an important priority has universally taken shape: how to make travelers safer and the customer experience more convenient throughout the aviation journey—everything from check-in, bag-checks and security to airport shopping.


Security is, of course, of the utmost importance, and rightly so–even though it often has a negative impact on the traveler experience. We know the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are working daily (and nightly!) to keep our skies safe, which is why biometrics is so important to the security process. Having the ability to instantly verify that secure documents are valid and do match the identity and confirmed reservation of the traveler ensures that only vetted passengers arrive on the other side of that security line. Biometric security enhancements actually serve a dual purpose; not only are biometrics more accurate at screening individuals, they also move lines along faster. By bringing automation to necessary processes–that can then be optimized and become more predictable, this creates a better airport experience for everyone.


With the ability to predict wait times, passengers are able to spend more time doing what they choose, from relaxing in the lounge, to visiting duty-free shops (as biometrics also lets you “pay with your face”!).

The Fate of Airport Customer Service Isn’t Terminal from InteractiveNEC

Big change cannot be driven solely by the technology, though, which means leadership events like the AAAE Airport Innovation Forum are extremely important. More collaboration amongst industry stakeholders is critical to the success of the digital revolution in commercial aviation, for real change that is predicated on thoughtful policy and implementation, careful execution, and effective change management.


This paradigm shift is being driven by a recent realization by all stakeholders that, in fact, there is a common goal – digital transformation, for a better customer experience, improved commerce, cost and time savings, optimized security and smoother airport operations.


Next time you’re at the airport, think about how biometrics is, or could be, reducing the burden on airport operations, and making your life more secure.

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Expanding The Effectiveness Of Enterprise Security

Time is probably the most significant factor when it comes to protecting company premises. The speed in which a potential threat is identified and reliably assessed is pivotal in lessening possible harm to property and those within an organization’s facilities.

Whether an unlawful entry or a malicious act, the ideal security strategy is one that stops an incident before it actually has the chance to occur.  Technology that delivers increased awareness is helping to make this a reality.

Today’s advanced technologies are making areas previously considered un-securable safer – Take for instance fiber optic transmission and machine-artificial intelligence.  By combining self-learning with fiber optic sensing – as used in NEC’s Intelligent Perimeter Intrusion Detection System – suspicious activity can be located and classified over large areas and sites prone to challenging conditions. Being immune to electromagnetic interference, impervious to seasonal changes, capable of producing few false alarms and higher detection rates and requiring no electrical field power to function makes this cutting-edge technology a practical and effective security addition.

Automation is quickening response time – Even established security practices are being transformed by advances in technology such as the use of high-level algorithms.  One such area:  Video surveillance.  Hours of manual examination and the prospect of human error are being outdone by automated pre-set analysis.  NEC’s Enhanced Video Analytics solution – officially known as NEC EVA™ – is an example of such capability.  By being able to simultaneously process live and pre-recorded video based on set criteria, suspicious individuals, objects or questionable behavior can promptly be recognized and investigated.  Capable of also aligning cameras with multiple watchlists and custom alerts makes threat prevention that much easier and thorough.


Device-based applications are simplifying security through self-service functionality – Pen and paper registration, generic visitor card controls and physical security checks can soon become a thing of the past.  When tablet devices are loaded with facial authentication software – as it is with NEC’s Front Desk Assistant – security gets streamlined and more transparent.  Self-registration, photo badge creation and arrival notification all become automated through a single touchpoint handled by the visitor. Digitalized activity logs make for ready-to-read and sharable reports for in-depth insight into daily and repetitive facility traffic for greater awareness of what is occurring and with whom.


An increasingly connected workforce is making security alerts more targeted and immediate – Should a 911 call occur, push notification software gets the word out broadly and in varied ways.  Emergency messaging by voice, email, text or a combination of all – all achievable using NEC’s UC Emergency On-Site Notification – can advise first responders on where to go and the type and severity of a situation they might face.  This same functionality can also keep people in close proximity updated and vigilant or should an event prove to be a false alarm it can swiftly broadcast a cancellation or an all clear.

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Five Themes from connect:ID 2019

Originally co-founded just six short years ago by the International Biometrics + Identity Association (IBIA) and Science Media Partners, connect:ID aimed to create the world’s preeminent identity technology conference and exposition. This year’s show proves that connect:ID still has mass appeal!

The connect:ID 2019 event, held from April 29 to May 1 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., brought together more than 1,500 attendees and 150 speakers from government, commercial and technical arenas to discuss a wide variety of topics related to identity and related technologies used for recognition, authentication, customer experience, and digital transformation.

A number of overarching themes and topics emerged this year, and I’ve decided to outline the top five or so that I observed.

  1. Collaboration at the federal level was apparent. A fireside chat hosted by IBIA Executive Director Tovah LaDier with two senior program leaders from within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – John Wagner from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Stacey Fitzmaurice from Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – outlined how they are using facial recognition to create a secure, seamless and consistent experience for travelers moving through our country’s ports of entry and exit. CBP operates the Traveler Verification Service (TVS), a database used to match and authenticate travelers’ facial images as they enter or exit the country, to which TSA will have access for future expansion of facial recognition at security lines for expedited screening. CBP’s Wagner now reports having caught more than 100 imposters attempting to illegally enter the country at U.S. land and air borders. And why shouldn’t TSA have access to this technology that is already proving itself so valuable?
  2. Sensor fusion is the future of customer experience. In his keynote address, NEC Vice President of Technology and Solutions Kris Ranganath discussed the combination of IoT, AI and analytics technologies that will come together to enable digital transformation and create seamless, reliable, more enjoyable, yet still solidly secure customer experiences as we move between two worlds – the cyber realm and the physical realm. This concept of sensor fusion already exists in certain cutting-edge retail and entertainment use case examples, and Mr. Ranganath expects we’ll only see more of this in the future.
  3. Customer journeys are a key theme for driving innovation for international travel and border protection. The vision for this experience is to create a seamless or contactless journey from reservation to destination. Mr. Wagner from CBP referenced in more than one instance the importance of a frictionless traveler journey in solving the border security issue. In a panel on the future of seamless travel, I outlined several customer journeys related to border entry – via air, land and sea – all enabled by facial recognition and sensor fusion. These journeys are not just a dream, they’re becoming reality. Mr. Wagner at one point in the fireside chat posited that someday kiosks may become unnecessary for Global Entry.
  4. Personal data privacy was discussed in more than one session. Nobody disagrees that privacy is paramount, and more than one multi-disciplinary panel of experts at connect:ID agreed. However, how we achieve it at a policy level is still up for broad discussion and debate. In the government panel titled “Perspectives on Privacy: The Rashomon Effect,” panelists including NEC’s Director of Government Relations Brent Bombach offered varying takes on the issue. Our take and hope is that federal legislation will eventually create a consistent regulatory environment so that travelers can move safely and seamlessly through their journeys without fear of their personal data being stolen.  So, as NEC Corporation CEO Takashi Niino previously wrote, NEC will always favor legislation that both protects personal privacy and allows for innovation in the public and commercial sectors. But a variety of state laws currently on the books or in varying stages of proposal promise to ensure a complex regulatory environment where biometrics and data privacy is concerned. Furthermore, a panel of congressional staffers on the main stage seemed to conclude that a federal preemption, or federal legislation that would render state privacy laws related to biometrics moot or unnecessary, is not likely to succeed in 2019.
  5. Innovation was on full display across the connect:ID 2019 expo floor. I’d like to be able to say that it was all in NEC’s booth. Evidence of innovation was actually scattered all across the expo floor. My favorite, however, is a solution based on NEC’s own research and development in optical networks. Intelligent Perimeter Intrusion Detection (iPIDS) works to detect physical border and facility breaches through the use of highly adaptive and responsive fiber-optic sensing and self-modifying machine learning based artificial intelligence. Deployed along a border or around a secure facility, iPIDS can not only tell when something is there, it uses AI to understand the location and source of the vibrations. Deployed as part of a sensor fusion network, iPIDS is one more way that people can feel safe and secure as they go about their daily journeys.

NEC was proud, as always to participate in this year’s connect:ID, and we certainly look forward to the 2020 event and to see where the industry will be in less than a year’s time.

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Exploring the Diverse World of Biometrics at AFIS 2018

Our 32nd Annual AFIS Internet Users Conference, held in Reston, VA, was a highly successful event. It brought together professionals from around the globe, and with its proximity to our nation’s capital, we were pleased to host a number of our Federal clients as well. Together, we explored opportunities and issues impacting the public safety and law enforcement community in the near and long term future. In this time of digital transformation, attendees learned more about new techniques in forensics, experienced the latest in identification technology solutions, and how biometrics and AI can help provide a more secure, convenient and frictionless experiences for all of us.

This year’s conference was enhanced by dynamic speakers from U.S. and international law enforcement agencies (e.g. Toronto Police Services) and U.S. Federal government agencies discussing their use of biometrics and analytics technologies in meeting their challenges and success stories.

Our keynote speaker, none other than Secretary Tom Ridge, the First Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security and former Governor of Pennsylvania, kicked off the three-day event discussing the evolution of our country’s security profile, the role technology plays in securing our borders, and the trends impacting local, regional and state public safety officers and investigators.

In parallel, NEC showcased its latest identification technologies that are helping federal, state and local agencies with new ways to solve crimes, predict threats, capture data, improve public safety and security. Some of the highlights include:

  • Interactive expertly guided tenprint workshops with hands-on experience with NEC’s Integra-ID® iBW, the latest in fingerprint technology processing
  • eGate Solution for Airport and NeoFace® Express showed how frictionless identification can simplify and enhance a passengers experience while increasing security
  • NEC Enhanced Video Analytics (EVA) represents the latest biometric and video analytics technology allowing for instant detection, identification and tracking of suspicious individuals in a crowd
  • NeoFace® Reveal and SmartScan exhibits gave an up-close and personal encounter for many AFIS Internet members as they transition to facial recognition disciplines in addition to fingerprint and tenprint identification work

One of the highlights of the conference is the opportunity to network and socialize with other like-minded professionals who are facing the same issues and daily challenges. The Winery at Bull Run was a unique venue that provided a fun atmosphere of comradery for our two groups!

The conference closed with the 2018 AFIS Awards Banquet. This was a time to recognize the newly elected AFIS Internet, Inc. Executive Board and to honor recipients of the AFIS Internet 2018 “Biometric Hit of the Year Award.” Deputy Norman Kandil with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office was recognized for his use of the new Facial Recognition program on a theft case that not only resulted in the arrest of the unknown suspect; it also took the Detective down an unknown path that ultimately lead to the conviction and sentencing of two additional suspects. Hector Hernandez with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office received the award for his work as a Latent Print Examiner on a human smuggling transport case resulting in the death of 10 immigrants. Other agencies were unable to identify the tenth victim, but Hector was able to get an impressive Print (Finger) hit to positively identify the last victim. Congratulations to all, with our sincere gratitude for your service!

I would like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the AFIS Internet Board and our host agencies, the Virginia State Police and the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, for their dedication and tireless efforts in organizing this conference.

This year’s AFIS Executive Board, Host Agencies and volunteers did a fantastic job of providing relevant topics, with outstanding speakers who engaged, educated and inspired us.

We now look forward to 2019 and hope you will plan to join us next August 25-28 in Scottsdale, AZ. Meanwhile, you can check out or relive the excitement by viewing our photo gallery or our AFIS 2018 recap video.

AFIS Internet Conference 2018

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