- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

The company that supplied controversial face-recognition technology to scan people on the streets of Tampa, Fla., is working with commercial partners in China to supply the same technology there.
Face-recognition software analyzes the spaces and angles of as many as 80 key points on a person's face. Data from only 14 to 20 such points are enough to create a unique digital "face print" that can then be compared with an existing database of face prints, derived, for example, from pictures of wanted criminals.
When used with surveillance cameras, the monitoring system can scan the faces in a store, on a street or at a sporting event for those wanted by the police. Such a system was used at this year's Super Bowl to scan for criminals and possible terrorists. Tampa has since used the system in a popular nightlife district.
Joseph Atick, chairman and CEO of Visionics Corp. and an inventor of face-recognition technology, told reporters Wednesday that his company is doing business in roughly 50 to 60 nations, including China. One application being considered for China is access control, he said, citing banking as an example.
One's face becomes one's password, which could be especially useful where not all account holders are literate.
There was no technology transfer involved in the Chinese transactions, Mr. Atick said. "They buy basically a finished product from us, just like they would buy a piece of equipment and integrate it into their applications," he said.
The company would not sell to Iraq, Libya or Iran, Mr. Atick said. The revelation about the possible sale of such systems to China came during a news conference sponsored by the Security Industry Association.
The face-recognition system has been used in Mexico to prevent voter fraud. In Newham, a neighborhood in London, incidents of crime have dropped by 40 percent since the system was installed two years ago, Mr. Atick said.
Privacy advocates in the United States have raised alarms over face recognition and other surveillance systems, such as closed-circuit television. The industry association is calling for a refocusing on developing policies to govern the responsible use of face-recognition and closed-circuit television.
SIA would prefer voluntary rules and distributed internally developed guidelines on the use of closed-circuit television. The document suggested it be used only for public safety and law enforcement, and not be used for monitoring programs based on race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation or disability.
It also suggested that public systems be set up to see only what a police officer on site would see and that tapes be erased after an appropriate amount of time.
Not everyone is convinced of the usefulness of such guidelines.
There are guidelines against spying, giving out classified information and rifling Internal Revenue Service records — which have not stopped abuses, said Richard Diamond, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, who has come out strongly against surveillance technologies.
Industry representatives countered that such technologies aid police in their duties and could help stop identity theft. They also asserted that such monitoring in public places does not infringe on protections against unreasonable search and seizure because courts have ruled there is no expectation of privacy in the public places where such systems are used.
["I think the industry's getting very nervous," Marc Rottenber, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Reuters news agency. "I rather suspect the stuff they're emphasizing, a lot of that is to protect business interests."]
Though no law appears to ban closed-circuit television or face recognition, regulation may indeed be on the horizon. Hearings are planned for when Congress returns in September, Mr. Diamond said.
"The point is this technology is too powerful and too open to abuse, and guidelines aren't going to fix that problem," he said.

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