Surveillance Through Facial Recognition (Part 2)

12/8/2012 9:19:30 AM

Make-Up tricks for hindering recognition

The biggest technical problems will however be solved soon. Researchers have been working for a long time on scanners which combine various biometric methods: a 3D scanner tries to determine the line of vision and inclination of the subject's head to correct the image of a 2D scanner. A face scanner checks the identity, an iris scanner (which functions from a distance of up to two meters) counterchecks it, and a thermal image camera decides whether it is a real face or a rubber mask. "We can improve facial recognition technology dramatically by combining various methods", says an excited Ihmor.

And what will happen next? Total pervasive surveillance? There is hardly any surveillance tool that provokes such a strong backlash as automatic person detection. Artist and civil rights campaigner Adam Harvey is not surprised: "The problem with facial recognition systems is the imbalance of power" he says. You can't tell whether a camera just passively records video or analyses what it has seen. On the other hand, complete surveillance infrastructures can be set up using relatively simple software updates - think of the million or more cameras in Great Britain. Today, those who resist a scan arouse suspicion. Harvey has found a subversive workaround: make-up tips that can outsmart facial recognition systems. A streak of hair here, a black stripe there, and the computer can no longer recognise you. His project "CV Dazzle" was an Internet sensation - and shows yet again that the topic of facial recognition must be discussed on priority.

Does Facebook serve as a police archive?

This has been going on in politics for years now, for example in the office for technology assessment of the national parliament. A report from the year 2002, whose point of view is applicable even today, says that only a public, transparent discourse can "create awareness about the significance of the dynamics of the social-technical development [...] which may be combined with intensive application of biometrics in future." In short, biometric systems are a serious disruptive force in the balance of control mechanisms of today's societies.

Description: Artist Adam Harvey's project "C V Dazzle" showed how deliberate alterations to a person's appearance could defeat face recognition systems.

Artist Adam Harvey's project "C V Dazzle" showed how deliberate alterations to a person's appearance could defeat face recognition systems.

This affects everyone, because such systems are practical only if as many relevant persons as possible are recorded. This is also the reason why the Facebook venture shocked data protectionists and civil rights campaigners: not only do they fear the actual potential for surveillance, but also the changed mentality that will emerge. Once you understand the convenience of biometrics on Facebook, Picasa or Google, you will probably no longer be scared of its darker side and become careless when dealing with unknown identities. When asked about this phenomenon, data protection officer Peter Schaar expressed his concern: "I find it unsettling that any random person can be identified with the help of digital photos which have been taken by a smartphone, by comparing them with the photos that have been published on the Internet or on social networking sites."

But at least one concern is unfounded at present: that police authorities can access these private photos saved on the Internet to arrest offenders through mass face recognition. In many countries, biometric features are considered to be personal data that is exceptionally worthy of protection. Involuntary imposition, storage and processing are permitted only in exceptional cases and the person concerned must be informed of this. Even if it were easier to access Facebook's index of saved faces, there are very practical reasons that prevent the routine use of such a feature. A policeman explained: "We simply don't have the manpower for that." That may well be true, but it will only last as long as computers still need human support.

New methods

There are many facial recognition methods, but none of them has been accepted as the right one. However, the world is clearly moving from simple geometrical processes to combo solutions.

2D geometry

Description: 2D geometry

2D geometry

In the initial stages of facial recognition, simple geometrical data was compared: the distance between the eyes or the distance between the chin and hairline. But this method is too inaccurate and too easy to outsmart.

2D statistics

Description: 2D statistics

2D statistics

More accurate and statistical methods such as the Eigenface approach are used (right). Here, an abstract image is calculated and the differences between the test face and the reference face are checked. Another approach compares the frequency range of test faces using Fourier transformation.

2.5D combo

Description: 2.5D combo

2.5D combo

The statistical methods can be enhanced with 3D information, for example correcting the line of sight of a test face. This eliminates image errors or deceptions such as holding up a photo of a face to the sensor.

3D recognition

Description: 3D recognition

3D recognition

Laser scanners or sample projections (such as those in Xbox Kinect) are especially difficult to outwit, and are at least theoretically independent of lighting and facial alignment. But they are costly and susceptible to discrepancies such as caps or lifted collars.


Combo solutions provide the best recognition data. These solutions make use of other biometric methods, for example iris checks (from up to 2m away), finger vein scans, face thermal imaging, lip movement, gait recognition and/or keystroke patterns.

Be anonymous on Facebook

Description: Be anonymous on Facebook

Be anonymous on Facebook

It's easy enough to make sure that Facebook does not automatically try to analyse your face:

Deactivate Facial Recognition: Open the "Privacy settings" in the drop-down menu at the top right (small triangle). Then go to "Timeline and Tagging | Edit settings | Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?". In the next pop-up window, "Tag suggestions", select the "No one" option.

Delete Saved Data: Facebook stores summary data about your photos in order to detect your face in others' photos and suggest tags. The site will delete this information upon request, but it's difficult to actually do so. You will have to contact Facebook yourself and request that they delete your summary data - an automated form that allowed you to do this yourself seems to have been removed.

Test a facial recognition system

You can use facial recognition systems yourself. Several PC utilties and smartphone apps are available.

KLIK by Face.com: If you turn your iPhone camera towards a friend, this app displays his/her name. For this, the app searches biometric data and the names of your Facebook friends. With just a click, you can also teach this app new names and faces.

Description: Test a facial recognition system

Test a facial recognition system

Avatar Kinect/Windows 8: Microsoft's Xbox 360 can also detect faces with the Kinect add-on and automatically select suitable chat avatars. Microsoft intends to integrate this technology in Windows 8 as well: if a new person sits in front of it, the computer can automatically change the user account.

Android 4.0: Instead of a code lock, the latest version of the smartphone OS can also be protected via facial recognition. But be careful; the "Face unlock" function can be manipulated by holding up a photo of the owner.

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