Keep up to date with Drugs & Crime

The art of face recognition technology

Share This Post

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email

In the near future, will police officers be able to use their mobile phone to photograph you at the roadside and then instantly run your photo through a database of known criminals?

These thoughts were prompted by a fascinating article by @paulxharris in this weekend’s Observer on the possibility of applying face recognition software to famous paintings.

The University of California at Riverside has secured funding to test the application of facial recognition software to famous portraits where the subject is unknown such as “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, one of 14 portraits of unknown subjects which comprise a current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery entitled “Imagined Lives“.

The University is going to start by using the software on death masks of known individuals and create a database of sufficiently wealthy individuals who could be the real life model for, say, the Laughing Cavalier.

Intriguingly, there are also plans to use another forensic technique, software which predicts how an individual might look several years after their latest available image, as was recently done in the tragic case of Madeleine McCann.

So, it will be possible to run this ageing software on the Girl with a Pearl Earring and then see if another portrait was painted other as an older woman. If such a portrait was titled, we would then know her identity.

All this talk of facial recognition software put me in mind of Facewatch, the business crime reporting website and application which I posted about recently.

Facewatch hosts still images from CCTV footage and encourages members of the public to go online (or use the mobile app) to see if they recognise the perpetrators of local crimes.

It is easy to imagine a future in which all these images are automatically run through a database of known offenders to try to identify them at the earliest opportunity.

It strikes me that if the plans for a National Identity Card developed by the last Labour government had gone through, this might well have been one of its prime uses.

It would, of course, be possible to start building a database using photos from passport and driving licence applications although the data protection and Civil Liberties considerations would have to be fully worked through.

For the time being, we will have to rely on Facewatch and indeed Facebook which is increasingly used in police investigations to identify potential suspects, although its use by witnesses and jury members have resulted in the collapse of a number of trials.

Who knows how important facial recognition software will be for the future of law enforcement?

For myself, I would love to know who were the real life models for Jesus and the 12 disciples in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper.


Share This Post

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Related posts

Using social media to assess risk

Could the probation service soon be using computerised algorithms to assess risk of harm to the public by the automatic search of offenders’ Facebook posts?

Digital Engagement
What do Apple, Facebook and Google know about you?

We all know that huge technology companies keep track of us, but somehow we never quite imagine the full extent and detail of what they know about us. The infographic below from is educational to say the least:

The law can’t cope with crimes on social media

The ideal is for social media networks to police themselves, but you only have to look at some of the outrageous, sexually violent tweets that many women routinely encounter online to know that this approach isn’t always sufficient.

How burglars use social media

Criminals and law enforcement officials are early adopters of new technologies and social media in particular in their battle to outwit each other. There are plenty of ways in which burglars in particular can develop their lean systems to target and gather intelligence on potential victims and minimise the risks of getting caught. Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare are particularly straightforward ways of finding out if someone is away on holiday or business. Google StreetView makes advance reconnaissance a piece of cake. The infographic below summarises some of the main techniques in current use…

Digital Engagement
What do the public like about police Facebook pages?

What do the public like on police Facebook pages? A quick and dirty analysis suggests that success stories, police dogs and information about missing persons are most popular. Any police misdoings also provoke a strong public reaction.

2 Responses

  1. Just wondering whether the same technology could be used by consumers of illicit pills to build a ‘recognition’ database of illicit pills. Admittedly pill appearance is a poor measure of what’s in a pill and the potential effects, but it is better than nothing. The Pill reports website already catalogues illicit pills and user experience. I can imagine the day that rather than physically entering details of a pill and then endless combing the ensuing reports spat out by such databases, users could simply photograph their pill. Seconds later reports of similarly marked pills complete with warning of potential risks encountered would be sent directly to their phone. Now theirs an application of the technology I would love to see happen.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

keep informed

One email every day at noon