The Scary Facial Recognition System That Just Might Work

There's lots of unfounded fears for facial surveillance. Recall the artist who is making plastic masks to 'stop' Chicago's imaginary facial surveillance system.

However, the US NSA may really be on to something with their emerging effort.

The NYTimes is reporting on Snowden documents that claims the NSA is doing large scale harvesting and analysis of pictures on the web:

"The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,”

This sounds both very believable and practically useful.

Unlike video surveillance images, which due to problems with angle of incident, insufficient pixel density, and lighting limitations, are rarely viable for effective facial recognition matching, the web features lots of high quality, direct, head on shots of people that work well for this application.

It, of course, depends, where the NSA is getting these images (Facebook, Instagram, Vine, etc. ?) to determine how wide a net they are casting but the fundamental approach is very likely to help them track / match individuals.

Of course in addition to the quality of the pictures the association of metadata about the subject--such as their name--must be valuable. It's a great way to seed a recognition database and could come in handy when searching for the identity of a subject who shows up later in (say) an airport security line.