Although the system is not ready for use, researchers say they are making significant advances. That alarms privacy advocates, who say that now is the time for the government to establish oversight rules and limits on how it will someday be used.
The effort to build the BOSS system involved a two-year, $5.2 million federal contract given to Electronic Warfare Associates, a Washington-area military contractor with a branch office in Kentucky.
Significant progress is already being made in automated face recognition using photographs taken under ideal conditions, like passport pictures and mug shots. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is spending $1 billion to roll out a Next Generation Identification system that will provide a national mug shot database to help local police departments verify identities.
But surveillance of crowds from a distance — in which lighting and shadows vary, and faces tend to be partly obscured or pointed in random directions — is still not reliable or fast enough. The BOSS research is intended to overcome those challenges by generating far more information for computers to analyze.
The system consists of two towers bearing “robotic camera structures” with infrared and distance sensors. They take pictures of the same subject from slightly different angles. A computer then processes the images into a “3-D signature” built from data like the ratios between various points on someone’s face to be compared against data about faces stored in a watch-list database, the documents show.
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