Facial recognition software was developed too late to track criminal suspects, such as Lee Harvey Oswald.(Photo: Police Department, City of Dallas/Courtesy Les Ellsworth via Newseum)
(USA TODAY) -- The U.S. intelligence community is pushing a leap forward in facial recognition software that will enable it to determine better the identity of people through a variety of photographs, video and other images.
Called Janus, the program run by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), "seeks to improve face recognition performance using representations developed from real-world video and images instead of from calibrated and constrained collections. During daily activities, people laugh, smile, frown, yawn and morph their faces into a broad variety of expressions. For each face, these expressions are formed from unique skeletal and musculature features that are similar through one's lifetime. Janus representations will exploit the full morphological dynamics of the face to enable better matching and faster retrieval."
Documents released by IARPA over the weekend show that the Janus program will start in April 2014 and run for four years. During that time, the agency hopes to "radically expand the range of conditions under which automated face recognition can establish identity."
A division of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, IARPA was created in 2006 and modeled after DARPA, the Pentagon's agency that researches technology for future military uses. Another branch of the intelligence community, a venture capital firm run by the Central Intelligence Agency called In-Q-Tel, invests in companies that develop facial recognition software.
Civil liberties groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, have raised concerns about unchecked uses of facial recognition software.
Janus and IARPA's increased interest in facial recognition software raises significant privacy issues, said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. Coupled with the rapidly increasing number of surveillance cameras around the country, facial recognition software "represents a quantum leap in the amount of surveillance taking place in public places."
For example, Stanley noted, authorities could randomly run facial recognition programs over surveillance video and determine the identities of people frequenting certain public places without any kind of oversight.