back to article Cops nab suspect using CREEPY facial recog system

British cops used a new facial recognition system to snare a shoplifting suspect whom they say was automatically identified due to his resemblance to criminal relatives, The Register has learned. In a development that may strike fear into members of well-known underworld families, Leicestershire plod told us a new system …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    In other news

    The spirit of Lambroso has popped off a bottle of bubbly in whichever bit of the underworld he currently resides.

    Comparing faces based on a set of features closesely associated with crime - we have heard it before:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cesare_Lombroso

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge
      Stop

      My first thought was ...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertillonage#Forensics_and_criminology

      which leads on to the salutatory story of Alfred Beck.

      And todays conspiracy theory is that I seem unable to find a web resource which details his story. Basically he did five years in chokey, because he looked like a known fraudster. This was just before fingerprints, and did for Bertillonage in the UK.

      1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: My first thought was ...

        To conceal the story the name has been changed to Adolf Beck in all online copies:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolph_Beck_case

  2. Stretch

    The tone of this piece seems to suggest that this is somehow a good thing

  3. AndrueC Silver badge
    Stop

    organise an identify parade, both of which carry weight in court

    Does it? Not much I'd hope. Certainly not as key evidence. Witness testimony has been proven to be horribly unreliable. Human eyes aren't very accurate optically, the human visual system makes things up as it goes along, human data storage is tainted by emotional triggers (both storage and retrieval) and human memory is fallible.

    1. HMB

      You're right about witness testimony, but human eyes are very impressive optically. It's taken a very long time to develop display and recording technologies that are as good as they are and we're still some way away from fooling a TV viewer into the notion that the images on their TV look absolutely real.

      I'll agree with you on your other points though.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge

        You're right about witness testimony, but human eyes are very impressive optically.

        I'll take that back then. Most of the problems are probably the result of how we direct attention which is of course the visual system. Apparently we find it very hard to see people dressed in gorilla suits :)

    2. Christoph Silver badge

      I can see a major problem with claiming that an identity parade provides evidence.

      They get a photo of someone committing a crime. They plug that into an enormous database of pictures. They come up with someone who by pure chance looks very similar to the criminal.

      Then they put that person on an identity parade and ask "Is there anyone here who looks like the criminal?"

      Well yes, of course there is! That's why the computer picked them out!

      Given a big enough database there is very often going to be somebody somewhere who is a very close match. An identity parade should not be considered to be additional evidence.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Id or not id

        Id parades are not done in person these days. A witness gets to watch a 15 second video of each person looking at the camera and to the left and right. The problem is that the police may not have arrested the right person, but younger and older people are likely to pick someone out even though they are always told beforehand that the suspect may not be present.Perhaps they believe the police wouldn't arrest the wrong person, or just so as not to disappoint an authority figure.

        Some research (watch the video from the Open Uni here - http://connections.kmi.open.ac.uk/content/catriona-havard) shows that adding a mystery man video on the end helps people choose 'none of the above' without compromising the stats when the suspect actually is in the line-up. Simple idea.

        And if it's miscarriages of justice you're after, this is interesting talk from the same site - http://connections.kmi.open.ac.uk/content/keynote-graham-pike which notes that fingerprint experts can be made to change their minds about a match (you didn't think it was all done by a computer did you?).

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > They get a photo of someone committing a crime. They plug that into an enormous database of pictures. They come up with someone who by pure chance looks very similar to the criminal.

        Hah, yes this was exactly my thought. The bigger the database of faces, the bigger the problem.

        I guess the only way I think to mitigate it is to use the same technology to find a set of "innocents" with the same similarity to use in the line-up. That way, the identifier must be absolutely certain of the culprit to be able to make a selection. That and ensuring that it is only use to identify possible targets for further investigation where additional, more certain evidence is required.

        As long as the possible failings of this technology are understood, I can see this being a good thing as long as it doesn't make for lazy police work.

  4. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Stop

    innocent or guilty

    The creepy part is not this facial recognition system but that they keep mug shots of innocent people.

    1. Graham Marsden

      Re: innocent or guilty

      The creepy part is not this facial recognition system and that they keep mug shots of innocent people.

      FTFY

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: innocent or guilty

      "that they keep mug shots of innocent people."

      You either don't live in Britain, or haven't been paying attention for the past 10 or more years. It is not now easily reversible.

    3. bigtimehustler

      Re: innocent or guilty

      Yes, and they also say, if the person agrees. Do they actually ask people or do they wait for you to somehow know they have an image of you and then you have to complain to them? I think I know which one it is.

      1. VinceH

        Re: innocent or guilty

        It doesn't matter which one it is, because if too many people say no then at some point it will change from "Cops are allowed to keep photographs for five years before deleting them, as long as the subject agrees" to "Cops keep all photographs, forever" because there will be a new 'emergency' bill passed to protect us from the paedorists.

    4. SoltanGris

      Re: innocent or guilty

      RE: Evil Auditor on getting mug shots of 'innocent' people.

      Every time I've had my picture taking for :

      Texas Drivers License,

      Passport,

      Concealed Carry Permit,

      Student ID (that was decades ago for me)

      Mad Magazine ID.

      The government gets my mugshot, in living color. If they have been doing due diligence

      over the decades they even have a database of what I looked like 30 years ago.

      So, it is NOT surprising they have a mugshot of you, innocent or not.

      1. Graham Marsden
        Big Brother

        @SoltanGris - Re: innocent or guilty

        > RE: Evil Auditor on getting mug shots of 'innocent' people.

        > Every time I've had my picture taking for :

        The point is that those images are suppose (in this country at least) to *only* be used for a specified purpose, not a general CCTV surveillance dragnet.

      2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: innocent or guilty

        What? Mad Magazine is a front for the US Government?

        Or the US Government is a front for Mad Magazine?

        Perhaps that explains a lot.

  5. Khaptain Silver badge

    Latex Masks

    So whoever opens up a business selling realistic latex masks, not the BDSM kind, is likely to become very popular amongst the underworld.

    It would be interesting to use the Chief Superintendants face for example.

    1. Crisp

      Re: Latex Masks

      Google Handsome Guy Human Mask.

      1. d3rrial

        Re: Latex Masks

        Or Handsome Jack mask... Altough I guess that might get flagged as criminal :/

        1. Khaptain Silver badge

          Re: Latex Masks

          So 6 guys walk into a bank with these on....

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srcN8Ctvvs8

          Creepy doesn't even begin to describe it, I had no idea that these really existed outside of Hollywood...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Latex Masks

            So 6 guys walk into a bank with these on....

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srcN8Ctvvs8

            Let's see 6 guys tolerate wearing those for more than 5 minutes on a typical Brisbane summer day.

  6. Grease Monkey

    The people who think that this is somehow a sinister new development are missing something about the way the police operate and have always operated. When investigating a crime it has always been common practice to investigate known local criminals, criminal groups and criminal families. After all if a crime is committed on the turf of a known criminal group then the police would be foolish not to investigate that group. This is using technology in a similar way.

    And those who think that this could be used to secure a conviction haven't got a clue how the courts work.

    1. bigtimehustler

      Indeed, but this will bring up a lot of similar looking people in the database who the police would never have thought of talking to normally. Granted the court may not put much weight on it, but I doubt you would have appreciated having your time wasted if your innocent by having to go to court and defend yourself in the first place. Court cases can be length things, the police seem to think that if your found innocent then that's fine, justice done. What about all of the wasted days of your life defending yourself? They seem to forget about that.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        >Granted the court may not put much weight on it

        You're joking. A multi million pound computer system that has been used in all these other cases and prints an accuracy with so many decimal places in such an impressive font.

        The evidence before the court is incontrovertible, there's no need for the jury to retire ....

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sorry about this..

    ... I must be having a slow day. What exactly does: 'Cops are allowed to keep photographs for five years before deleting them, as long as the subject agrees' mean? To be clear about my confusion. it's the 'as long as the subject agrees' bit.

    Thanks

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Sorry about this..

      as long as the subject agrees == provided the subject agrees?

      1. HMB

        Re: Sorry about this..

        I think AC's understandable confusion is around why anyone, guilty or innocent would want to agree to something like that and perhaps a concern that the police might use some sort of coercion to get people to agree.

        "Ok Mr Criminal, do you mind if we save your photos?"

        "Yes, I do mind, don't do it please."

        "Oh come on! Go on..."

        Personally if someone's walking round with the name of Mr Criminal I think they're asking for trouble.

        This whole scenario makes me think of another one Eddie Izzard raised.

        "Cake or death?"

        "Cake please."

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: Sorry about this..

          Ok, death by cake it is then.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Sorry about this..

          Those convicted have no choice in the matter.

          The innocent can object to their image, DNA etc being stored if they want; but the police simply ignore the objection.

          Simple really.

          Say thanks to our Etonian overlords.

          1. bigtimehustler

            Re: Sorry about this..

            Yes, from a system Labour put in place and allowed prior to the conservatives....

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Sorry about this..

              @bigtimehustler - No point in trying to blame Labour or the Conservatives. They are one and the same these days. Etonian graduates who are only interested in pandering to the elite and out of touch with the general public.

              Why we keep voting in these over-privileged arsewipes escapes me.

              1. Michael Dunn

                Re: Sorry about this..

                Etonian graduates, not to forget Fettes, Harrow, Charterhouse, Westminster..... graduates!

                Why are we eginning to use th American phrase: ¨high-school graduate¨?

        3. Tom 38 Silver badge

          Re: Sorry about this..

          We're out of cake!

        4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Sorry about this..

          "why anyone, guilty or innocent would want to agree to something like that"

          The guilty don't get a choice. The truly innocent will probably think it's no big deal. The criminals not yet found gulity of anything will say no.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sorry about this..

      It means the police can keep your picture so long as you don't disagree to it (implied consent).

      You can object, in which case the police will:

      a) Refuse on grounds of public safety; or

      b) Investigate you because you have something to hide;

      c) Say they have deleted, but haven't.

      There is nothing to see here, citizen. It is being done for the public good.

      Shut-up and obey the machine like the good prole you are.

      Do not question the machine.

      Questioning the machine is an act of disorder and illegal.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    "The system doesn't discriminate,"

    yup, everyone is now guilty until they can prove their innocence.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "The system doesn't discriminate,"

      If the police arrest more black people then more black people will resemble people who have been arrested and so the system will pick out more black people.

      Racism in, racism out.

      1. bigtimehustler

        Re: "The system doesn't discriminate,"

        Indeed, but could the reason also be that a lot of ethnic minority people are living in deprived areas and so are more likely to end up involved in low level crime, purely because of their social situation, as opposed to their race. So it will look like more of them are arrested, seems like an obvious truth to me that no one likes to admit.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "The system doesn't discriminate,"

          Sure, there could be different reasons. It could also be that it ends up targetting more white people than black people simply because it's easier to get a good image of a white person in uncontrolled lighting conditions. Nonetheless saying a computer vision system doesn't discriminate is inaccurate.

  9. Graham Marsden
    Big Brother

    Why do the words...

    ... False Positive keep coming to mind...?

    (Big Brother because there's no Kafka icon)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why do the words...

      "Although a positive identification is not enough evidence to result in a conviction"

      1. Graham Marsden
        Thumb Down

        @AC - Re: Why do the words...

        But it's enough to get you arrested and for some people that's suffienciet for them to assume that you must be guilty of *something*, followed by your job, career, reputation or family life disappearing up the Swanee...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why do the words...

        " "Although a positive identification is not enough evidence to result in a conviction" "

        But it will arouse suspicion about a person.

        As the then Home Secretary David Blunkett once said "No one who is innocent has anything to fear from a police investigation of them". One of his ideas was that everyone's PC's contents should be liable to random checks - and buying a child an ice-cream should trigger an investigation. One of his political opponents said "David believes everyone should be in prison who isn't David Blunkett".

        Unfortunately the police do tend to stick with the first idea that appeals to them. The cleaner the suspect - the more convinced they become that they are "guilty - but very clever".

        They seem to have a tendency these days to arrest "on suspicion of...." - then use the automatic power of search to disrupt a person's life in the hope of finding something that might look incriminating.

        Presumably the large database of pictures of people attending peaceful demonstrations etc will be off limits to them? So too - passport, driving licence pictures? Full face pictures are needed - like those taken by the helmet cameras that are being mooted? "Good afternoon sir - we just record these conversations for your safety - your name is?".

        It won't take long before the database is like DNA samples - automatic and very hard for innocent people to get removed "because it is potentially so useful". Once it gets large then false positives are going to become normal.

      3. adnim

        Re: Why do the words...

        "Although a positive identification is not enough evidence to result in a conviction"

        Although it is enough to disrupt ones day completely leading to several hours in a police cell, missed appointments, the possibility of a loss of income or missing last orders at the local.

        It also gives the police time to do some fishing. And they can always get the people that respond angrily on section 5 of the public order act to boost some league table statistic.

        Cynical, me?

    2. Kit-Fox

      Re: Why do the words...

      ... False Positive keep coming to mind...?

      Probably because there are no publically figures available describing the failure rate of this latest & greatest tech. After all if juries really understood the problems surrounding evidence like this & others such as DNA, then we would have less convictions which is something the judiciary cant abide to happen.

      After all its all to protect us from terrorists & think of the kiddies, so you cant ask for details as then you are some kind of free-radical anarchist who must by definition of the current idiots in power in both elgov & the so called 'police' be detained to protect public safety.

      Rember folks Freedom really is Slavery & Ignorance really is Strength

  10. Steve Todd

    As a way of helping track down a suspect

    Based on photographic evidence of the crime then it's not a bad idea. The photographic database on which it feeds is the creepy bit. If a person is cautioned or convicted then there's a fair case for keeping a photograph on file. If there's only suspicion, or involvement in another case then I don't see it as reasonable to give the police the right to hold photos for that long.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As a way of helping track down a suspect

      " If there's only suspicion, or involvement in another case then I don't see it as reasonable to give the police the right to hold photos for that long."

      If there's only suspicion, or involvement in another case then I don't see it as reasonable to give the police the right to hold photos.

      Fixed that for you.

      1. Steve Todd
        Stop

        Re: As a way of helping track down a suspect

        There IS a reasonable case for photographs while a case is ongoing, when someone is arrested etc. The point at which they are deleted is the question.

  11. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Flame

    False positive

    As Jean Charles de Menezes [unwittingly] demonstrated, a false positive can be a lot worse than a little inconvenience.

    And since nothing has changed, and no one held to account over that state execution, it *will* happen again. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in 20 years time.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'ere sarge

    didn't we arrest someone else with just one eye in the middle of their forehead last month?

  13. mark 63 Silver badge

    chav spotter

    so its trained to recognise burburry caps and tracksuit pants?

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

      Re: chav spotter

      Kind of like only detecting tanks when it's rainy:

      A network learns the easiest features it can. A classic (possibly apocryphal) illustration of this is a vision project designed to automatically recognize tanks. A network is trained on a hundred pictures including tanks, and a hundred not. It achieves a perfect 100% score. When tested on new data, it proves hopeless. The reason? The pictures of tanks are taken on dark, rainy days; the pictures without on sunny days. The network learns to distinguish the (trivial matter of) differences in overall light intensity. To work, the network would need training cases including all weather and lighting conditions under which it is expected to operate - not to mention all types of terrain, angles of shot, distances...

      (from a random page I Googled about neural networks)

      In practice, this sort of problem is well known, so it's unlikely to be a factor.

  14. asiaseen

    May The Face

    Be With You

  15. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    Separated at Birth

    William Gibson had an interesting spin on the use of mugshots to identify people in one of his novels. Observing that people are bombarded by the faces of celebrities on a near-constant basis and that we develop really good recall of what they look like, his fictional facial recognition is based on matching faces based on similarity to known celebrities. It might work, but I guess that there might be unconscious bias based on the kinds of roles played by those actors. So if you look like Alan Rickman, say, you're probably more likely to be hauled in than if you look like Ben Kingsley (more people would think of Gandhi, I guess, though if you've seen it, it would be hard to forget his performance in Sexy Beast).

    Anyway, it's definitely in the realm of fiction, but I still couldn't help wondering whether it could actually work in real life...

  16. JaitcH
    Thumb Down

    And they call the British free?

    Canadians appreciate more each day their rights granted them under The Canadian Constitution, thanks to the late Pierre Trudeau.

    Many of the things Plod has a 'right' to in the UK requires the signature of a judge in Canada.

    I wonder what liability attaches should the Plod arrest the wrong guy as a result of a lookalike snap? Or do the cops get a free pass jail move?

  17. kryptonaut
    Big Brother

    Is a user of NeoFace...

    ...called a NeoFacist?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meanwhile in China.....

    ....the system is abandoned due to too many Wong results.

    </casual racism>

  19. g e

    "The Metropolitan Police Force is due to visit Leicestershire"

    I hope the Leics plods prepared for a sudden rash of 'false positives', then

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