According to Christopher Parsons, a post-doctoral fellow and the managing director of the telecommunications transparency project at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, the broadest applications to date [of facial recognition technologies] involve tranches of official photos maintained by government agencies that issue identification documents, such as passports and driver’s licenses.
In recent years, he adds, facial recognition software has become substantially more sophisticated. The advent of so-called 3-D recognition techniques allows the software to make matches between official posed photos and informal, un-posed ones—e.g., images posted on social media sites. What’s more, these biometric algorithms, which can “learn” to recognize faces based on composites developed from multiple images, are no longer restricted to government security. Facebook has a facial recognition app, and at least two developers have built apps for Google Glass that purport to be able to run facial images through picture databases from dating sites or sex offender registries, Forbes reported earlier this year.
To date, this kind of cross-referencing hasn’t produced great results, says Parsons, although he adds that the latest generation “is better than it used to be.”
And in Canada? Police in Vancouver successfully used facial recognition technology to identify looters during the Stanley Cup riot in 2011, drawing from videos submitted by bystanders as well as CCTV images. The technology was also deployed during the G8/G20 in Toronto. But Parsons points out that at date, there’s not enough data on general law enforcement applications to determine whether this sort of facial recognition is effective.