Homeland Security Tests Facial Recognition “Machine”

By:  Warren Mass
Homeland Security Tests Facial Recognition “Machine”

On September 21, the Department of Homeland Security tested a new facial recognition system at the 6,000 seat Toyota Center in Kennewick, Washington, during the season home opener of the Tri-City Americans, a junior hockey team in the Western Hockey League.

The story was initially released by the local Tri-City Herald, in a September 13 article linked to the hockey team’s website. The reporter, Annette Cary, phrased the story in innocuous-sounding terms:

Hockey fans at the season opener of the Tri-City Americans will have a chance to help the U.S. Department of Homeland Security improve its facial recognition capabilities.

Video will be taped by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory [PNNL] at the Sept. 21 game in a portion of the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

It is planned to be used by the U.S. government to test the capabilities of facial recognition software that is available or in the prototype stage.

The report noted several provisions made by PNNL to allay the concerns of attendees who feared that the test might invade their privacy. PNNL bought 46 extra seats providing video-free areas for those who did not want to be taped.

“If they didn’t want to be videotaped, they could very easily not be videotaped,” the Herald quoted Nick Lombardo, a PNNL project manager, as saying.

The report explained that PNNL was interested in taping its own staffers, rather than random members of the public.

“Basically the crowd is background,” PNNL engineer Marcia Kimura told the Herald.

The report also cited a statement from Patty Wolfhope, a program manager at the Department of Homeland Security, who assured the public that no names of people will be collected during the test and that only government researchers, not the technology developers, will see the video. 

It might be fair to say that more Americans would be concerned that the DHS has collected video of their face than a private firm like PNNL.

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