(CNSNews.com) - Twenty-first century technology could play a major role in combating any future terrorist attacks. Digital face recognition technology used at the 2001 Super Bowl triggered outrage in some quarters over privacy concerns, but some of those concerns may be set aside in today's post-September 11 world.
Joseph Atick heads the company that sells the "FaceIt" technology used not only by police during the Super Bowl but by local governments, private businesses and other security interests worldwide.
The technology works by analyzing video feeds from standard closed circuit television cameras and instantly converting faces into signature "faceprints."
It measures facial structure and can be used by law enforcement to match the image of a known or suspected criminal to a previously taken image. At least theoretically, such a technology could have been useful to law enforcement in tracking two of the September 11 hijackers who were already on a government watch list.
"Instead of random profiling of people, we can at least bring another dimension of alarm that we can use to distinguish an average passenger from one that could potentially be dangerous," said Atick. "Intelligence is the key to the success of an overall national defense system."
Before the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Atick believed that his company's surveillance product had much potential for preventing crime. Now, he says, that belief is even stronger.
"We're doubling our efforts in terms of our feeling that this is a productive thing that we can contribute to ... the national defense," Atick said.
"We have presentations, we are being asked to provide strategy and opinions, as well as pricing, as well as systems ... as fast as we could," he said. "We've put aside some of the orders we've received from the retail and other industries to make sure that we can first deliver for national security."
The FaceIt technology offers many advantages, Atick said. It relies not on racial profiling or seeing through disguises but on the contour measurements of a person's face, which are hard to disguise; it allows surveillance without the hassles of, say, detaining innocent travelers; and it could be less expensive than other security measures.
Setting up the surveillance system in an airport costs, not millions, he said, but hundreds of thousands of dollars up front, with low costs in subsequent years.
But the system is not foolproof and would likely remain objectionable to many privacy advocates.
Atick predicts that would-be terrorists would try to evade detection by using operatives that are not already known to the intelligence agencies.
"But I happen to believe that terror is not faceless because terror that sophisticated requires indoctrination and training and schooling," he said. Atick predicts that FaceIt technology will allow law enforcement to more quickly identify associates of suspected terrorists.
He also acknowledged that the new value placed on security may induce law enforcement to keep images of innocent people on file.
"I can tell you that instead of automatically deleting [the images taken] in airports, the intelligence agencies may require keeping the audit trail for maybe 24 hours or 48 hours," said Atick. "So just in case an emergency happens, we will actually know who is actually on the plane and who they belong to. It would be like a passenger manifest on the plane."
Atick is a businessman, but, he says, also a New Yorker who saw firsthand the aftermath of the attacks.
"While I was going through the murals [photos of the dead and missing], I found a picture of one person that I worked with," he said. "It just hit me so personally that for me it was not an economic discussion. It was a discussion about the civilized world needing to do everything it could ... to bring the best minds in this world together to say how do we restore to civilization a sense of peace and tranquility and safety."See Related Stories:
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