"There are various facial recognition products or deployments, and they are not all equal," he continues. "Some work very well for controlled environments, like at driver's license or passport enrollment, and then used against an enrolled database. Very few work well in an uncontrolled or surveillance type of operation."
But it's clear to Schuepp the only biometric that can work in surveillance is face recognition rather than finger, iris or DNA.
Schuepp says the need for facial recognition is growing in government and commercially, and it's predicted to grow the most among other biometrics. "The biometric market alone is $3 billion in 2007, of which 13 percent is for face," he notes, citing data from a report by the consulting and technology services firm International Biometric Group (IBG).
McNeil agrees law enforcement must be careful about relying solely on face matches, and he points out the accuracy of facial recognition algorithms is improving rapidly. For instance, the recently published NIST Face Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) 2006 reported an order-of-magnitude decrease in error rate has been achieved since FRVT in 2002.
"New developments in capture technology, improved video surveillance systems, 3D facial imaging, and more attention to the quality of equipment and capture environments combine to make facial recognition not only a viable technology, but an extremely effective law enforcement tool," McNeil says.
The suppliers agree, this tool, combined with other ID systems, can benefit law enforcement.
"Facial recognition is very effective as an investigative tool and to narrow the target population of suspects," according to McNeil. "If used in a multi-modal biometric system, which combines facial identification with a strong biometric such as fingerprint identification, the end result is much higher accuracy than any one biometric alone."
Atick concurs. "We see facial recognition systems as an evolution toward the law enforcement goal of multiple biometrics, so you can think about identity verification, not just face or fingerprint matches," he says. "Perhaps the use of a device no larger than a single lens reflex camera can enable the officer in the field to capture fingerprints, face and eyelids, and dispatch the biometric data wirelessly to ascertain someone's identity."
According to Atick, this capability is available today from SecuriMetrics, an L1 Identity Solutions company, which produces a system called HIIDE, and is used by the U.S. Department of Defense in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Forrester says the cost of the system may be a drawback, but his company created a solution for strapped departmental technology budgets. "In the past, a single enrollment station with camera and software could cost almost $100,000," he recalls. "In an effort to get this technology in more departments, we ask them to purchase the hardware, which includes the computer and camera for between $15,000 and $20,000, and we'll give them the software. Then we charge $2 to $3 per bed in the jail per month as an operating cost. This lowers the price significantly."
Atick points out the cost of technology is usually a big factor when it's first introduced, but over time, you get more for your money.
"There's value today from face recognition's accuracy and capability," Atick says. "It's part of an arsenal of tools law enforcement needs to establish identity. It's key to know who you are dealing with so you can react properly."
Kay Falk is an independent writer with more than 18 years of experience in writing for trade publications. She can be contacted at (920) 563-1511.