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Disclosures show crowd-scanning facial recognition system tested by U.S.


The U.S. Department of Homeland Security tested a crowd-scanning facial recognition system last year, called the Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS), following two years of government-funded development, newly disclosed documents show.

The documents were first obtained by privacy advocate Ginger McCall under a Freedom of Information Act request, who then provided them to the New York Times.

According to the New York Times report, the $5.2 million contract for the system was awarded to Electronic Warfare Associates, an American military contractor, which was the only company to place a bid.

As the documents outline, the system consists of two towers with infrared sensors that capture two pictures of people from different angles to create a 3D visualization of a person’s face to perform comparison or identification through facial recognition.  To test the system, the Department of Homeland Security hired the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, though it was ultimate determined that the system was not yet ready. Those developing BOSS are striving for 80-90 percent accuracy at a distance of 100 meters.

This news comes shortly after significant leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, which indicate –among other things — that the government has been exercising greater surveillance tactics, through a program called PRISM, than was originally believed.


Facial recognition is increasingly a part of security and camera surveillance systems, though technical limitations such as lighting, database size and pose have made identification in crowds a difficult feat as of yet.

BiometricUpdate.com took an investigative look at the use of facial recognition in identifying suspects – namely Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan – shortly after the Boston Marathon Bombing.

Though reports have since said that facial recognition was not a viable option and did not produce a suspect, independent tests have come to a different conclusion.  

Based on the accessibility of  necessary technology and hardware, facial recognition is a fast growing modality and adoption is also supposedly increasing, though it’s unclear how Snowden’s leaks have changed this public perception.

As the New York Times report indicates, privacy advocates are concerned by this system and say oversight rules and limits should be imposed.

According to a recently-published research report, the global facial recognition market is estimated to grow from $1.92 billion in 2013 to $6.5 billion in 2018, at an impressive CAGR of 27.7%.

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