- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

Boston Logan International and some other U.S. airports are turning to face-recognition technology to compare the looks of those seeking to board airplanes with those of suspected terrorists.
A local Maryland firm will be in charge of testing the new technology at Logan.
It's the same technology that was condemned as Orwellian by civil libertarians and some pundits and politicians before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 5,000 Americans.
But now the Federal Aviation Administration is scrutinizing the system as a means of improving aviation security, and some airports are on the verge of trying the technology.
One such airport is Logan International, which was the departure point for the two hijacked jets that slammed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
"I'm sure Logan will be putting a [face-recognition] system into effect we know it's doable," said Richard Roth, executive director of Counter Technology Inc. (CTI), an aviation security firm in Bethesda, which will oversee testing of two rival systems at Logan within the next two months.
The systems make use of video surveillance cameras that capture facial images of would-be passengers as they go through security checkpoints and of computer technology that allows the faces to be matched against a database of known terrorists, fugitives and other criminals.
"This is a promising application that needs to be shown and tested, and which I'm confident will have use in combating terrorism," said Joseph J. Atick, president and CEO of Visionics Corp., a New Jersey-based firm, whose FaceIt face-recognition technology will be tested at Logan for a period of 90 days.
FaceIt analyzes spaces and angles between as many as 80 key points on a person's face. Data for 14 to 20 points are enough to create a "face-print" that proponents say is as reliable as a fingerprint for identification.
Mr. Atick said facial images of would-be passengers at airports could be matched against the faces of those on FBI "terrorist watch lists" and fugitives from justice.
The database at Logan also will contain the faces of airline crew members and others who regularly use the checkpoints but who are not terrorists, said Mr. Roth. That will be done, he said, to ensure that the computers work.
Mr. Roth said FaceIt will be up against a face-recognition system produced by Lau Technologies of Littleton, Mass., during the three-month evaluation period at Logan. Lau officials could not be reached for comment.
Interviewed yesterday, Mr. Atick of Visionics said, "At least a half dozen large airports are very seriously analyzing" his firm's system, and he indicated that some are close to signing contracts. He declined to identify any of the airports until the deals have been completed.
Spokeswomen for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Baltimore-Washington International said yesterday there are no plans for face-recognition systems at those facilities.
Ron Wilson, spokesman for San Francisco International Airport, said: "We're looking into it we're looking to see if face-recognition has any advantages over the hand-recognition technology we've been using here since 1992."
A face-recognition system will be online within the next two weeks at the McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tenn. The National Safe Skies Alliance, a nonprofit group based in Knoxville that provides impartial testing of aviation security devices for the FAA, will be checking out the Lau system for a period of two to three months, said Safe Skies President Tom Jensen.
"We expect we will be testing all commercial face-recognition systems somewhere. The FAA wants to look at all these kinds of technologies," Mr. Jensen said in a telephone interview.
Asked if he believes the system holds promise for strengthening airline and airport security, he said, "It's a technology that certainly has proven it works in lab tests." But he said there are still concerns that it "takes away a lot of perceived privacy."
The American Civil Liberties Union still raises those concerns and also questions the equipment's effectiveness in improving security. It charges that face-recognition systems perform poorly in dim light.
Mr. Jensen believes one of the biggest difficulties in setting up such a high-tech monitoring system will be deciding the content of the database. Mr. Roth of CTI agrees that will not be an easy task.
Also, the cost of setting up a face-recognition surveillance system at a major airport will not be cheap. Mr. Atick of Visionics says such a system would require between 100 and 300 cameras and cost between $300,000 and $1 million.
But he argues that is "not expensive, considering that security equipment at airports cost millions" and "each guided missile used in this war on terrorism costs $1 million or more."

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