B.C. company puts biometric security in U.S. airport

Thanks to biometric technology created by a Canadian company, police in Oakland, Calif., are one step closer to having a high-tech system that scans airport crowds for known bad guys.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Dept. is extending installation of its ID-2000 facial recognition technology – designed by Imagis Technologies Inc. of Vancouver, in partnership with Orion Scientific Systems in Newport Beach, Calif. – throughout the district, and to Oakland International Airport.

Imagis’ ID-2000 works with the company’s Computerized Arrest and Booking System (CABS), and third-party applications to capture and search more than 500 facial descriptors generated from its sophisticated image analysis algorithms. It then compares an individual’s features against a database of recorded faces, as well as images of identifying marks such as tattoos or scars.

Alameda County – where Oakland is located – completed the implementation of a face-scanning system three months ago in the city’s jail. When suspects are arrested, their faces are scanned during booking and the digital images are stored in a central database located at Oakland Police Department headquarters, according to Oakland police Sgt. Mark Schmid, who is in charge of the program.

Now the police department is installing a T1 line to the airport so a scanner located there can connect to the database of photos from the jail, he said.

It is possible that Oakland could eventually try to access an FBI list of terrorists, Schmid said. But he acknowledged his and other agencies must agree on a standard format for storing the pictures before that can happen.

The move follows last month’s terrorist strikes in the U.S., which prompted Oakland officials to move to expand the face-scanning technology to the airport.

Imagis, which has sold its biometric technology to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, several RCMP detachments, and other cities in California and Mexico, started out as a satellite imaging company, said company representative Chris Wensley.

“Imagis technologies [later] built a database management system – a computerized arrest and booking system for law enforcement. Then the RCMP requested facial recognition capability to be incorporated and that was developed by our experts,” Wensley said.

“Since the genesis of [the technology] was a law enforcement request, it had to be highly accurate, very sophisticated, and very fast,” he said. Although there has been significant development and modification along the way, and the system’s ability to provide a correct identification improves all the time, Wensley noted that “the ideal application or usage of the technology as it is today involves adequate lighting (and) low background interference.

Recently, the RCMP detachment at Pearson airport in Toronto used CABS and the ID-2000 to nab an identity-shifting drug smuggler, Wensley said. The officers photographed a suspicious individual and ran his image through their database. Seconds later a number of matching records popped up, he said.

“Four of the five (matches) were this guy and three were aliases – so [the RCMP] was delighted. Until they caught this fellow they didn’t realize they had various records for this individual, so they were able to consolidate this database.”

Although officials in Oakland declined to give details on how the scanner at the airport would be used once it’s in place, Wensley said that Imagis could provide an end-to-end security solution.

“From check-in, through the metal detectors, to the gates and right on to the airplane we can verify that the people who are cleared when checking in are (the same ones) presenting the boarding pass.”

– With files from Jennifer DiSabatino, Computerworld online (US)

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