The New Face of Crime

I can’t stand to watch CSI. They start with the scantest of information, put it into a cool-looking computer, tap the screen a few times, and then out pops their suspect – photo, date of birth, address and all. What bothers me so much is that it’s so unrealistic; police surveillance technology doesn’t really work like that.

…Or does it? The iFace Network, reports the Herald Sun, uses facial recognition technology to help police in the Australian state of Victoria identify suspects quickly. Algorithms create a unique code for each face in the police’s database of more than 750,000 photos, including mug shots and images from surveillance cameras. Officers can use it from anywhere on the Victoria Police intranet as part of a suite of intelligence tools available to them.

The potential benefit to Victoria Police is huge. Even if a suspect goes by multiple aliases, police can simply pop his or her mug shot into the software, and iFace will cross-reference it with other mug shots in seconds. This allows police to know in just a few seconds whether their suspect is wanted on other charges.

The network can even help police find suspects from the beginning. When officers enter witness-reported traits – such as height, weight, hair and eye color – and details about the crime, the technology can narrow down a pool of suspects from its database.

All of this occurs in seconds, allowing police to spend more time working in the streets actually catching criminals and less time flipping though pages of photos using their subjective judgment to pick out offenders.

And because no technology is perfect and problem-free, police must be certain not to give iFace too much weight. The potential for the technology to misidentify a photo could result in someone being charged for a crime he or she didn’t commit. Snafus such as this have been the cause of many a mid-episode twist for CSI.

The technology itself does seek to diminish to possibility of this problem by rating the strength of the match between the facial features it measures. This should provide some degree of a safety net. But ultimately, police have to use iFace as a tool, and not as the final word on crime scene investigation.

And while this tool will likely make police work more efficient, I don’t think we’re going to see Australian investigators closing cases in a mere 60 minutes anytime soon.

What do you think, though? Could the lure of 21st-century, instant-update crimefighting induce police to let the technology have the final say? Or do you think the inclusion of a “confidence level” would be enough to keep a level head on a potentially over-enthusiastic officer?

Let's start a conversation. I’d love to hear from you. Post a comment now.

Posted by Laura Williams on Nov 08, 2010

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