Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Zooming in on Facial Recognition -- Not Giving In

Methods and products are constantly improving.  We are never satisfied with the “good enough”, and consistently aim for the next version, the faster operating system, the smaller smartphone.  Why should biometrics such as facial recognition be any different?  No, they are not 100% infallible perfection now – but isn’t that what makes us work harder to improve them?

A study was published stating that Biometric Security Products are inherently fallible and therefore should not be relied upon for crime prevention and processing scenarios.  So that’s it? End the billions of dollars of research; eliminate the funding and release all of the programmers? That’s what the National Research Council would have us all believe.

If we take a step back and look objectively over our technological discoveries and creations over the past decades, haven’t they all improved periodically? Apple didn’t stop after version 1 of the iPod.  Intel still continues to introduce faster processors.  So why do the critics of biometrics feel this genre won’t improve as well?  And, as any security professional knows – security is about redundancy and layering of techniques; not simply relying on one security aspect to answer all concerns.  If we use them for that they are – one more piece of validation in a process that helps identify, track and manage issues – then they are one of the greatest innovations of the security landscape.

Each month the technology improves.  Now we can track biometrics of faces, veins, irises and even ears.  It would be a lot easier to walk through an entrance gate and be scanned while inputting a unique code (a layered approach) than it would to have manual intervention at every access point.  The potential is endless for what biometrics could do for police and security scenarios. 

Shopkeepers in London, for example, have integrated facial recognition into their CCTV cameras, so that they are instantly alerted if a repeat offender enters their establishment. This has cut down on the occurrence of theft that had been on the rise before the installation of the biometric capabilities. 

Some people worry about breach of privacy issues with this technology.  The purpose is not assert a” Big Brother” watchful eye over us.  The purpose is to use innovation to keep us safer and to rectify issues faster and with more confidence when situations to arise.  Why wouldn’t we all want what’s better?

Friday, November 19, 2010

This Kind of Body Worn Video is Always Handy -- And Controversial

It's body worn video in a sense, and once again it's a hot topic: videotaping by cellphones.  With recent arrests caught on tape, videos posted to YouTube and court battles regarding felony wiretapping, we wonder -- what is the law on this prevalent feature, the pocket video camera.  A few months back we posted a blog on this same topic, which I will reprint below:


iPhones, Smartphones, Dime-sized video cameras. Even kid-focused Nintendo DS's and candy-colored Nickelodeon-character video recorders. Personal videotaping devices are more portable and easy-to-use than ever. The primary purpose of these devices -- pure entertainment (though the woman caught on tape, who attacked a McDonald's worker over morning Chicken McNuggets may think otherwise). Videotaping amongst children doing pop-a-wheelies on their bikes is one thing. But what about videotaping that is far from child's' play -- like police officer encounters?

There have been several newsworthy occurrences of alleged illegal wiretapping of police officers lately. This recent trend can be directly correlated to the smartphone craze. Always handy, the cell phone has recorded police arrests, altercations, and police interrogations that otherwise would have gone undocumented. And when the police officers realize the recording is taking place, some situations become even more argumentative.

Take Tasha Ford, for instance, a South Florida woman who was jailed for "eavesdropping" when she, along with her video camera-phone, approached police that had handcuffed her son in a parking lot for allegedly trying to sneak into a movie without a ticket. The police told her it was illegal to record someone without them being aware. She quickly responded ,"My name is Tasha Ford and I am recording you." The police abandoned the trite charge against her son, and changed their focus to Ms. Ford, arresting her under Florida's electronic surveillance law.

"What's the big deal?" one might ask. If a police officer is doing his or her duty, that officer should have no beef with the fact that a recording is being made of the actions, right? After all, police and government work for US, the people. Not the other way around. It could be argued that the more transparent and out in the open the law enforcement exchanges are, the better.

But is that what is really happening? Or are these recordings problematic under the Wiretap Act, which prohibits all wiretapping of citizens without a warrant from a three-judge court? Mostly, this Act pertains to the videotaping of private matters, and without the other person's consent. It could be argued that police matters are always public matters serving the public interest. But what about receiving their consent? It is a murky area, that has been argued under many different circumstances in many state and federal courts.

No consent was given to Anthony Graber, a Maryland National Guard officer, before he videotaped his traffic stop from his motorcycle helmet and released it onto YouTube. He is now facing up to 16 years in jail for violating the state's wiretap laws, for recording the state trooper that pulled him over, without his consent. The fact that the recording shows the trooper cutting Graber off and pulling his revolver on him during the traffic stop could have added fuel to the fire. We also don't have the context of these actions to get the whole unadulterated story of the incident -- just Graber's video portrayal.

One of the arguments against videotaping of police activities by civilians is that no one can be sure that the original recording has not been altered after the fact. Editing software is just as easy and commonplace as the video recording devices themselves. It wouldn't take much for a grudge-wielding accessory to a crime, or any editing novice to completely change the sentiment or "evidence" within the recording, and then release it to news organizations to influence an ongoing investigation.

The major point seems to be the potential inconsistencies and varying points of subjective views that one civilian's video may have toward a police officer or ongoing case. And it seems the only satisfactory way to deal with these issues is to continue barring civilians from filming and capturing police scenes themselves. A government-sanctioned, police-endorsed product that records, that cannot be overridden or edited, and that expertly captures the entire encounter, both video- and audio-wise, needs to be the only acceptable media for such endeavors.

Hunter Systems Group's body worn video recorder, Hunter iCapture(TM) does just that. Its high quality picture, audio and remote operating capabilities make it a best-in-class alternative to grainy, inaudible and indecipherable recordings by civilians or lesser products. It's worn comfortably by officers in any situation, whether a routine traffic stop or a more active S.W.A.T-scenario, and is not susceptible to any after-the-fact rogue editing.

Because it is password-protected and technologically superior to any other handheld or personal video recording mechanism in existence, there is no reason to use anything but Hunter iCapture. Additionally, the camera device may be mounted in the police cruiser as an in car video or may easily be detached to act as a body worn video recorder. The more universal the operating system for police departments, security organizations, border patrols, and any other crime-prevention entities, the better and more useful the evidence.

If police wear these types of cameras, citizens like Ms. Ford and Mr. Graber wouldn't feel the need to pirate their own recordings, getting themselves into even more trouble than the initial instigation. In the meantime, let's save the iPhone and handheld cameras for what they were intended --the birthday parties and pop-a-wheelies. And the occasional drive-through debacle. 


To read the latest news on this topic, please visit this link.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tips on Staying Safe During this Most Wonderful Time of the Year

We wouldn't be a true public safety company if this time of year didn't conjure up a little alarmist in us all. Halloween with its kids' safety issues. Thanksgiving with its kitchen, deep fryer and drinking issues. And Christmas with the fire hazards and burglary potential. We would like to remind you all that once you strip away the technologies (the body worn video, the smart cameras, the biometric applications) -- the one fundamental goal for all in law enforcement is to keep you safe. Read on for holiday-specific tips and reminders.

Yes, Halloween has passed. We reminded you through our Facebook page to keep the kids safe, and to stay on well-lit and well-traveled streets. Well that holds true for this time of year in general. With the clocks set back and the darkness setting in sooner, it's getting easier to lose track of those neighborhood playdates.

Please remind your children to be home earlier. A cul-de-sac football game that starts right after school could easily go until 5 or 6 o'clock at night without the energetic players taking a breather. But now it's dark even before 5 o'clock. Make sure there is enough light where the kids are playing so that cars will notice them easily. Better yet, make an afternoon curfew to get the kids home before dusk. If this means swapping their homework time to after dinner, instead of right after school, that may be your best bet to escape any resistance on this new plan. Just take extra precautions with the early darkness and the potential desolation of darkened neighborhood streets.

As for Thanksgiving, lots of unwatched pots are boiling. An extremely hot deep fryer may even be sizzling away. And houseguests are coming, going, "helping", distracting and interrupting. We have a lot on our minds -- just make sure that safety in cooking is one of them. Set and adhere to timers. Assign jobs out to other guests, and make sure they follow up on them.

And watch the amount of alcohol. A glass or two of wine with dinner is one thing. But there are people that start drinking first thing in the morning (kegs and eggs, anyone?), and don't stop until right before they leave their host's house for the night. As the host, you have an obligation not to over serve. So take guests up on their offers to help in the kitchen and with the grill outside. You have more to focus on than just the presentation of a perfectly cooked turkey.

Then there's Christmas. Obviously we know by now that dry Christmas trees and exorbitant amounts of lights left unattended do not mix. Be careful with your decorations. Do not overload any outlets. Don’t leave lights on over night or when you are away from home. And do not place your tree too close to heating ducts that will expedite the drying process or even pieces of furniture that will burn if in fact a small fire does occur. Also make sure smoke detectors have fresh batteries and sprinklers (if your house is equipped with them) are in working order.

Also be extra cautious with your belongings, your car and your house. This time of year people are desperate for extra money and it is prime break-in season. Keep doors locked and alarms on at all times. Use a hidden safe to store expensive items and extra cash. The news is already reporting a rash of burglaries in South Shore towns of Massachusetts. Now is the time to prepare and be vigilant.

Be aware of your surroundings, when walking through darkened parking lots, and keep your cell phone handy in case you need to call 911 immediately. Always lock doors as soon as you enter your car -- try to only unlock the driver's door if you are alone. Diligence and observation are your best defenses, so don't text while you are walking to your car, or even while you are idling in the parking lot. Get in and start moving. Don't make yourself an easy target.

This time is year is filled with joy, excitement, happiness and expectations. And the more we arm ourselves with proper preparedness, common sense and proactive organization, the more we can actually enjoy it. So remember these pointers, and prepare to have a safe and secure winter season.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Business Social Media Sites for Public Safety and Law Enforcement Personnel

This series of blog entries discusses the different types of social media, and how those can be employed in the public safety and law enforcement arenas. Today we're on to the Business Category. Business social media sites include Plaxo, Ryze, Biznik, Cofoundr E.Factor, Ecademy, Networking for Professionals and probably the most well-known, LinkedIn.These sites are all communities that are used for networking, address book management, business communications, and knowledge sharing. LinkedIn also has a question and answer section where “connections” (rather than “friends”) share information on particular topics.

Many police departments use LinkedIn for its business networking capabilities. For example, the Las Vegas Police Department’s LinkedIn page has 209 followers, and lists officer profiles, job opportunities, and crime statistics on the site. LinkedIn can also be linked with Twitter, so that a user can cross-post to both services in order to reach a wider audience and keep its updates synced.

Ning is another site, in which communities are created around specific interests, job, etc. Loopthing is similar to LinkedIn, and lists company profiles and contact information. Xing is a networking site, most popular in Europe, where it has over 7 million users.

Any of these sites may be further categorized. For instance an online group for officers to ask questions about body worn video or mug shot capture systems would be a helpful and supportive community. Here they could stay informed, or share ideas with other dealing with the same types of issues and situations. The social media reach is endless – with more and more sites being created, one could easily spend his or her entire workweek updating sites. 

This is where a site like Posterous saves a huge amount of time. Posterous manages all of a department’s social media sites from a central hub. Officers can link all of their sites together, and one post simultaneously updates all of their accounts. This would be extremely helpful when time is of the essence, and you were, for instance, sending out information on a crime that just took place. Immediately, all of your sites would communicate the information to all users at once.

Sites like Posterous are helping non-social media experts become more familiar and comfortable with this “new” communication tool. And making them more useful is helpful, especially for such industries like law enforcement and crime prevention, where communicating with the public is so crucial. 

Next: Community Social Media Sites, and how they are best employed for the law enforcement and public safety industries.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fingerprint System In Use at Nationwide Health Club

Fingerprint Systems aren't just for use in the law enforcement industry.  One national fitness club, 24 Hour Fitness, has employed fingerprint systems for access in its more than 400 nationwide clubs. Now, with the scan of a finger (along with a 10-digit code, to ensure enhanced security), members can enter the facility without having to show their ID cards.
Of course, with any security advancement, there are two sides to this debate.  Proponents claim that convenience, environmental benefits (the club will no longer have to supply almost a million plastic membership cards) and cost savings are significant enough to justify this new technique.  But, those against this "Big Brother-type" program fear that their privacy is at stake. 

  Some feel that biometric devices that employ fingerprint, iris, voice or facial recognition are subject to hacking and therefore are not protected.  But 24 Hour Fitness counters this argument with the implementation of the unique code, along with the fingerprint scan.  And it even goes further as to encrypt a snapshot of the fingerprint ridgese into a binary code that is more secure and protected than the whole fingerprint may be.

  I don't know about you, but heading to the gym without my ID card sounds pretty appealing, and I'm not too worried about what trainers are going to with my BMI and rep counts.  Read the full article and tell us what you think.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

High-Tech Safety Products for the Police... To Drive In.

Body-worn video.  Biometric solutions.  Voice recognition and smart cameras. All belong on a police officer's list of best crime prevention tools.  But let's not forget...the cars themselves.

Last week we learned that the UK rolled out BMW Police Cars for all 52 of its forces. Intrigued by the idea for this side of the pond, I asked a few police officers stateside what they would think of such an occurrence here. Officers Jason McNamara of The Roanoke County Police Department and Tim Cohoon, a Massachusetts police officer, were helpful enough to shed some light on this topic for us.

Both told me that the police cars here, especially those involved in patrolling, need to have enough cargo room to accommodate equipment, gear and potential transport of suspects. While driving an unmarked BMW may sound appealing – maybe even glamorous – after speaking to these officers and reading up more on the topic, the concerns with practicality do seem to outweigh the mere enjoyment of such a scenario.

Another major concern expressed by both McNamara and Cohoon was the cost of outfitting and maintaining police cars. Officer Cohoon tells HSG that it is not uncommon for police cruisers to log nearly 100,000 miles each year. This fact, combined with the rigors of frequent and dramatic accelerations and stoppings, mean that whatever car the police drive, it would have to be powerful enough, reliable enough, and cost-effective.

Not to say that BMW’s are not reliable and powerful, but when something does need to be maintenanced or even replaced (as happens normally within any given car’s driving life), it is no secret that BMW’s parts and certified mechanics are a bit pricier than say, Ford or Chevy. The Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, on the other hand (the standard police vehicle of choice for most departments, including Cohoon’s and McNamara’s) can be easily serviced, and is specifically built with police modifications.

But it’s not just maintenance costs that would probably deter U.S. police departments from acquiring BMW’s. The initial cost of the car, plus the modifications necessary to equip it to be a police vehicle would most likely be prohibitive – especially in today’s economic environment. Now, I do not know the actual BMW prices for the UK cars – I am sure there was a very exhaustive RFP and bid process that took place and took into account all competitors and details. But still, knowing the economic climate that pervades the U.S. at this time, how do you think people would react, seeing the entire state of Massachusetts, for example, getting fleets of super-charged, and probably super-costly, Beamers to drive around in? Public perception must always be factored in, as police and community interaction and cooperation is paramount to performing their job successfully.

Also, in many cases, departmental patrol cars are normally serviced at the actual car dealership (with only minor repairs done in the actual town or city) by certified Ford mechanics. Again, this reflects back to the issue of costs. And convenience, really. These kinds of cars cannot be out of commission for long, so time is definitely of the essence. Just looking in the local online phonebook I found five times as many Ford dealers than BMW. 

All interviewed do admit that the speed of the BMW 3 Series could definitely come in handy. Officer McNamara points out that for pursuit vehicles or even traffic units, a speedy and not-so-large car could be effective. In these situations, officers don’t typically need as much cargo space, as they don’t arrest as many or as often as patrol officers. Yes, there are bigger BMW models (530d), but once again, we are back to costs, since the higher the model number, the higher the base cost.

But it seems that some sort of a change is inevitable for departments nationwide, as HSG has been told that the Crown Victoria will be discontinued next year. And we’ve heard from not just one source that Dodge Chargers (a sometimes alternate choice) have proven unreliable. Chevy Malibu has been used, with mixed results – not exactly acceptable in this extreme line of work. Maybe there really will be a push toward BMW – this could in fact be a new trend.

While both officers admitted it would be appealing to drive a sports car like a BMW all day for work, they also agree that the cons outweigh the pros at this time. Adds McNamara, “However, if BMW wants to send me a car to test drive for research purposes, I’d be more than happy to provide my address!” You hear, that, BMW?