South Wales Police facial recognition software boasts 8% success rate

The South Wales Police Force is defending the decision to trial NEC facial recognition software during last year’s Champions League Final as it is revealed only 8% of the identifications proved to be accurate.

The project was announced last year as the South Wales Police Force outlined plans to use NEC’s NeoFace Watch facial recognition software platform to increase the efficiency of police work during a weekend which saw 170,000 football fans in Cardiff. The promise of the technology was to identify persons of interest on pre-determined watchlists in real-time, with data being collected using CCTV cameras mounted on a number of police vehicles.

While the software was used at a number of different events in the capital, the Champions League Final got the most attention. As you can see from the table below, none of the results are particularly flattering for the South Wales Police or NEC, the firm which provided the technology to power the failed project, with the overall success rate just 9%

Event True Positive Identifications False Positive Identifications Success (%)
Champions League Final 173 2,297 8%
Elvis Festival 10 7 58%
Operation Fulcrum 5 10 33%
Anthony Joshua Fight 5 46 9%
Wales vs Australia Rugby 6 42 12.5%
Wales vs Georgia Rugby 1 2 33%
Wales vs New Zealand Rugby 3 9 25%
Wales vs South Africa Rugby 5 18 21%
Kasabian Concert 4 3 57%

While it is completely understandable there will be flaws in trials and POCs, this demonstration of outright failure makes you question whether this software should have been released from the lab in the first place.

Governments around the world are seemingly becoming less trusting of their own citizens on a daily basis, meaning more intrusive and secretive means of monitoring individuals are likely to become more common. Politicians and spooks around the world must have been watching these trials with some interest, and such a catastrophic failure of the technology is a very worrying sign.

Technology companies like NEC will be under pressure to produce platforms such as NeoFace Watch as quickly as possible as governments continuously look to step up activities. This pressure might result in platforms being launched too early, before enough stress tests have been run. This would certainly seem to be the explanation here, though South Wales Police (and NEC presumably) has blamed poor images supplied by UEFA, Interpol and other partner agencies. That said, the following extract from the NEC website seems to contradict this statement:

“NEC NeoFace technology’s strength lies in its tolerance of poor quality. Highly compressed surveillance videos and images, previously considered of little to no value, are now usable evidence and leading to higher rates of positive identification. With its proven ability to match low resolution facial images, including images with resolutions down to just 24 pixels between the eyes, NEC’s NeoFace technology outperforms all other face recognition systems in matching accuracy.”

It does seem the world has accepted its fate when it comes to Big Brother and eyes in the skies, but companies like NEC need to step up the game. Such technologies are likely to play a role in the trials and potential convictions of individuals in the future, therefore accuracy needs to be as high as possible.

EPIC pokes FTC over Facebook facial recognition techniques

The Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) is urging the FTC to investigate whether Facebook’s use of facial recognition technologies contradicts a consent order the firm made in 2011.

EPIC is leading a coalition of consumer groups against the social media giant on the grounds that user the facial recognition software violates the users rights to privacy. While there is a lot of nuanced language from all sides, EPIC argues that Facebook has not sought the permission of the user when developing these technologies, therefore is breaching privacy rules and ethics.

“The scanning of facial images without express, affirmative consent is unlawful and must be enjoined,” the group has said.

Back in 2011, Facebook found itself in hot water over its privacy practices and whether it was living up to the promises made to consumers. EPIC’s complaints at the time were supported by an FTC investigation and the firm was forced to sign a declaration which stated it would take privacy more seriously.

The issue here is the invasiveness of facial recognition software. While other biometric authentication technologies require the consent of the user, as well as proactive engagement (you have to put your finger on the scanner for example), facial recognition can be effectively used without the knowledge or approval of the user. It opens up quite an argument when it comes to the proper and ethical use of the technology as there will be nefarious actors who will have reprehensible intentions. And we do not exclude governments from this last statement.

While EPIC will argue the use of this technology is a violation of the consent agreement which Facebook signed in 2011, the dreaded wiggle room is present again. The application of facial recognition and consequences of user privacy has not been discussed from a regulatory perspective in any meaningful depth yet. It is a grey area which the technology companies are excellent at exploiting, but too be fair, it is legal until rules are written explicitly forbidding the practise.

Consumer groups like EPIC do have a useful place in the world, but a lot of the time they seem to be kicking up a fuss over not much, simply providing friction to progress for an almost non-existent issue which no-one really cares about. That said with the current headlines, there is no shortage of drama for the groups to be pointing their fingers at.