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Recognising faces better with CCTV

Both us civil libertarians and our critics are in the habit of arguing that technology, especially in the hands of government, never works properly, so either (civil libertarians): it should never be relied upon – or (anti civil libertarians): why are civil libertarians making such a fuss about it if it’s so useless? My own opinion is that this stuff is getting inexorably cleverer, and that to assume permanent techno-incompetence, in these times of all times, is ridiculous. Bureaucratic and legal confusion can be relied upon to continue indefinitely. But technology can be depended upon to improve.

Here’s a BBC report today, about the inexorable development CCTV software:

Visitors to a South Yorkshire science centre are helping the FBI in a project to improve CCTV evidence.

Scientists from the University of Sheffield were asked to help the US law enforcement agency develop a way of identifying often blurry faces caught on video footage.

Now 3,000 volunteers at the Magna Centre in Rotherham are to have their heads scanned to form a three-dimensional image which can then be compared with enhanced CCTV footage.

Researchers at the university’s department of forensic pathology hope the resulting technique will revolutionise the way CCTV evidence is used in court cases on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Magna” eh? Anything to do with Magna Carta?

1 comment to Recognising faces better with CCTV

  • Guy Herbert

    Surely there are more answers to “if it won’t work properly, why are you worried about it?” than that it’s getting better?

    Quite often surveillance technology has horrific potential for evil if it worked perfectly, but is in practice actually worse if it is used as its casual fans imagine it should be, and has any significant scope for error. A false accusation–mistaken or deliberate–through the medium of a machine has more appearance of certainty than one that comes from a human. Every accusation against an innocent protects a criminal. And there is no utilitarian trade-off: because they are far more numerous (leave aside that the guilty take precautions), innocents will be falsley accused far more often than the guilty escape justice.

    The public can easily understand how people make mistakes, and people can be interrogated in a generally comprehensible way about ordinary human interractions. The press, public, and even the courts are very largely at sea when questions of technical, scientific or statistical veracity are raised. And the experts on whom they rely often are proponents of the technologies concerned, rather than critical observers.

    In short, the technology can go wrong; but it is seldom intuitively obvious when it is wrong.