Body Cam Company Files Patent For Built-In Facial Recognition Tech

from the papers,-please-v.-2.0 dept

Police body cameras are the savior that failed to materialize. Accountability was the end goal, but obstacles were immediately erected by internal policies, cop-friendly legislation, and existing public records carve-outs for anything "investigation"-related.

Making things worse are the officers themselves. When excessive force or other unconstitutional tactics are deployed, body cams seem to malfunction at an alarming rate. And that's only if officers can be bothered to turn them on at all. Body cams have served up a bunch of exonerating footage and delivered evidence to prosecutors, but have done little to make law enforcement more accountable.

This trend isn't in any danger of reversing. Body cam manufacturers are seeking to expand their offerings, but the focus appears to be on giving law enforcement the extras it wants, rather than what the public is actually seeking. A good summary of recent body cam developments by Sidney Fussell at The Atlantic contains a discussion a new patent application by body cam manufacturer Digital Ally.

While the patent application contains some nice "triggering" effects that may result in more captured footage of questionable incidents, it also contains something that would turn passive recordings into active surveillance.

In mid-September, Digital Ally, a cloud-storage and video-imaging company, announced a series of patents for cameras that would automatically be triggered by various stimuli, not just an officer pressing record. Theoretically, these would end the problem of both re-creation and cameras inexplicably failing to record use-of-force scenarios.

Some of the “triggering events” in Digital Ally’s patents are for crisis response, in the event of a car crash or a gun being pulled from its holster. But some of the auto-triggers would cause the cameras to record simply as police move through public spaces. As described in one patent, an officer could set his body camera to actively search for anyone with an active warrant. Using face recognition, the camera would scan the faces of the public, then compare that against a database of wanted people. (The process could work similarly for a missing person.) If there’s a match, the camera would begin to record automatically.

As Fussell points out, the tech isn't ready yet. Processing power is still an issue. Facial recognition software needs to perform a lot of complex calculations quickly to provide near-instant feedback, and it's unlikely Digital Ally has found a way to cram that into a body cam yet. Moving the processing to the cloud solves space management problems, but would require far faster connections than are ordinarily available to portable devices.

But it won't be this way forever. And that has a lot of privacy implications, even when the footage is gathered in public spaces. Law enforcement doesn't have the right to demand you identify yourself in most situations, but inserting facial recognition tech in body cams strips away a small protection against government power citizens currently possess. The software will provide officers with personal information even when there's no reason for officers to have it. All of this is problematic even before you get to the issue of false positives and the havoc they can wreak.

It's almost inevitable facial recognition tech will be deployed by law enforcement. The DHS is already aiming cameras at passengers flying into the country to search for criminal suspects and others it wants to subject to additional screening. Any public place that routinely hosts large gatherings of people will be next in line for biometric scanning. And once the tech catches up with the dream, body cams will ID pedestrians by the hundreds, even when cops aren't actively searching for subjects or suspects.

No matter how it's pitched in the future, it's important to remember law enforcement isn't somehow "owed" every tech advance that comes its way. Supporters will say facial recognition tech makes both officers and the public safer. This may be true, but so do all sorts of privacy/Constitutional violations. Our rights protect us from the government. And that includes the right to go about your business without being asked by officers to identify yourself. Removing this right via technical wizardry and making it a passive experience for all involved doesn't make it any less of a violation.


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Oct 2018 @ 10:44am

    As things progress

    I suspect that the police will stop asking for ID's and start asking for where your authorization to be in a public place is. No authorization, OK your under arrest. Now I can ask you for your ID...legally.

    In the mean time, how many lawsuits for false positive ID's will it take to bring these systems under control? That is, if the courts actually recognize that one not only has standing, but is harmed by the false positives. Not necessarily a given.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2018 @ 11:08am

      Re: As things progress

      In the mean time, how many lawsuits for false positive ID's will it take to bring these systems under control? That is, if the courts actually recognize that one not only has standing, but is harmed by the false positives. Not necessarily a given.

      Just need to wait for a congressperson to get incorrectly matched to someone with an outstanding warrant and arrested.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 3 Oct 2018 @ 11:10am

    And just how is the officer going to know the body cam has a hit? Is it going to start chirping and cause the officers to do a general detainment of everyone in front of them to find the person who set it off? Is there going to be an army of operators at some other facility who will see the camera in active stream mode to give direction to the officers? While I'm not pleased about the implications of face recognition built into the cams, I would be pleased if some of their patents actually make the damn things turn on more often. Personally I think they should turn on automatically whenever the officer turns on the flashers, or radios dispatch that they are have something they are looking into.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 3 Oct 2018 @ 11:11am

    Not to worry

    ... since the camera will be tied to the officer's cellphone for sending the image, it will be throttled and down-scaled to where it will not match anyone. But it will increase the PD's cellphone bills for going over their unlimited limit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ShadowNinja (profile), 3 Oct 2018 @ 12:37pm

    > As Fussell points out, the tech isn't ready yet. Processing power is still an issue. Facial recognition software needs to perform a lot of complex calculations quickly to provide near-instant feedback, and it's unlikely Digital Ally has found a way to cram that into a body cam yet. Moving the processing to the cloud solves space management problems, but would require far faster connections than are ordinarily available to portable devices.

    > But it won't be this way forever.

    I don't know about that.

    We've been working on voice recognition for decades now and it's still not that great.

    The more pictures you add to the database the harder it gets to be accurate with so many people looking so similar. And then you need up to date pictures to. And where are you going to get pictures from in the first place?

    And then there's the picture quality issue.


    Frankly it would be far easier to tell who's who by making them carry some identification chip that they can scan without you even pulling it out, in other words a smartphone and checking who it's registered to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 3 Oct 2018 @ 1:08pm

    Wasn't Google Glass supposed to have a feature where it'd give you the name of someone you're talking to?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 3 Oct 2018 @ 7:05pm

    Concerning

    As Fussell points out, the tech isn't ready yet. Processing power is still an issue. Facial recognition software needs to perform a lot of complex calculations quickly to provide near-instant feedback, and it's unlikely Digital Ally has found a way to cram that into a body cam yet. Moving the processing to the cloud solves space management problems, but would require far faster connections than are ordinarily available to portable devices.

    What I find most concerning here is them filing patents on tech that isn't there. Might as well file patents on anti-grav and warp drives while we're at it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 3 Oct 2018 @ 10:57pm

    Before we give the police facial recognition

    Can we have a third party control the footage, and when the cameras are on or off?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2018 @ 5:46am

    people calm down!

    just put a post-it-note on the camera when you talk to a policeman, or better yet, wear some of those Groucho Marx glasses with the fake nose and mustache when talking to the cops.
    Dang...mountain out of a mole hill much?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Graham Cobb (profile), 4 Oct 2018 @ 5:48am

    Changing the narrative

    No matter how it's pitched in the future, it's important to remember law enforcement isn't somehow "owed" every tech advance that comes its way.

    This is a key point. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should.

    Law enforcement have never had it so good. There is so much more evidence available to them now (photos and videos, criminal plans discussed in emails, drug dealer contacts stored in phones, ...).

    As we all know, policing is a difficult job. Unfortunately for them, we need it to remain so in order to protect our civil liberties (such as trade unions, effective protest and campaigns for major societal changes). Some of the simplifications that the digital world have introduced to their job need to be rolled-back to protect civil liberties.

    Supporters will say facial recognition tech makes both officers and the public safer.

    As you say, this may be true. But so would doing away with trials and imprisoning anyone on suspicion by a police officer.

    Just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 4 Oct 2018 @ 6:01am

    At least this patent is novel

    It's a novel idea. It's like regular face recognition . . . but it's done on a computer!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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