Airports to Put Face-Recognition to Test

Article excerpt

Byline: Joyce Howard Price

Boston Logan International and some other U.S. airports are turning to face-recognition technology to compare the looks of those seeking to board airplanes with those of suspected terrorists.

A local Maryland firm will be in charge of testing the new technology at Logan.

It's the same technology that was condemned as Orwellian by civil libertarians and some pundits and politicians before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 5,000 Americans.

But now the Federal Aviation Administration is scrutinizing the system as a means of improving aviation security, and some airports are on the verge of trying the technology.

One such airport is Logan International, which was the departure point for the two hijacked jets that slammed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

"I'm sure Logan will be putting a [face-recognition] system into effect . . . we know it's doable," said Richard Roth, executive director of Counter Technology Inc. (CTI), an aviation security firm in Bethesda, which will oversee testing of two rival systems at Logan within the next two months.

The systems make use of video surveillance cameras that capture facial images of would-be passengers as they go through security checkpoints and of computer technology that allows the faces to be matched against a database of known terrorists, fugitives and other criminals.

"This is a promising application that needs to be shown and tested, and which I'm confident will have use in combating terrorism," said Joseph J. Atick, president and CEO of Visionics Corp., a New Jersey-based firm, whose FaceIt face-recognition technology will be tested at Logan for a period of 90 days.

FaceIt analyzes spaces and angles between as many as 80 key points on a person's face. Data for 14 to 20 points are enough to create a "face-print" that proponents say is as reliable as a fingerprint for identification.

Mr. Atick said facial images of would-be passengers at airports could be matched against the faces of those on FBI "terrorist watch lists" and fugitives from justice.

The database at Logan also will contain the faces of airline crew members and others who regularly use the checkpoints but who are not terrorists, said Mr. Roth. That will be done, he said, to ensure that the computers work.

Mr. Roth said FaceIt will be up against a face-recognition system produced by Lau Technologies of Littleton, Mass., during the three-month evaluation period at Logan. …