Imaging Technology: Polaroid Pitches Facial Recognition as Alternative to Fingerprint ID
A new alliance between Polaroid Corp. and Visionics Corp., a Jersey City, N.J., company specializing in facial biometrics technology, aims to extend Polaroid's base of imaging business at state departments of motor vehicles to other markets, including law enforcement.
Polaroid decided recently to integrate Visionics' FaceIt facial recognition software into the line of secure identification products it offers to state DMVs. FaceIt technology allows DMVs to fight fraud by comparing a single facial image across existing databases containing millions of digitized driver's licenses. The idea-to prevent criminals from getting multiple driver's licenses under assumed names-may clear the way for issuing driver's licenses at kiosks or by other unattended methods.
Long term, Polaroid hopes to get state and local criminal justice agencies interested in using the new capability to track suspects, potentially trailing them through attempts to alter their identity. Although still expensive to use on a massive scale, FaceIt ignores variances in skin tone, facial expression, hairstyle and lighting and generates "one-to-many" potential image matches.
Polaroid hopes the natural preference users have for comparing faces rather than fingerprints will drive the use of facial recognition technology to the point where it competes with fingerprint comparisons.
"There are a lot of jurisdictions that we've been talking to that realize the potential here," said Phil Scarfo, general manager for Polaroid ID Systems, which offers fingerprint solutions as well.
"We are beginning to compare this tool to automated fingerprint identification systems. Those systems also tend to be very costly because they require lots of computer horsepower and are very computer-intensive. Another thing that is nice about this technology is that you aren't bound by a requirement to have a good fingerprint image to start with the way you are with [Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems]," Scarfo said.
For two years Polaroid has been interested in offering its DMV customers the ability to compare images over huge databases.
"Most of the facial recognition technology that is out there works with small databases of 20,000 to 30,000 images. But when you get into applications where images number in the millions, capability starts to break down rapidly," Scarfo said. "A recent test we ran with Visionics proved to our satisfaction that their technology can [handle that many images]."
Visionics has sharpened the capability of its FaceIt software to the point at which it can compare an image against databases of up to 2 million existing images. But in the nation's largest states, such as California, there are DMV databases that contain as many as 400 million images, said Julia Webb, Visionics' marketing manager. The company was started in 1994 when a group of university researchers developed an algorithm based on their studies of how the brain recognizes faces.
Visionics is working to increase FaceIt's performance. Under the three-year agreement, Polaroid and Visionics together will work to drive down the cost of matching facial images and open up possibilities in the law enforcement market. Wholesale adoption of facial recognition technology, however, may be stymied somewhat by U.S. statutes that prevent police from digging into DMV databases.
"Right now, the way it works, law enforcement agencies in some states have the rights to search DMV databases, but only with a court order," Webb said. "That is designed to protect the average citizen. In the future, however, many believe this [searching] will become more common, and DMVs may be able to continue investing in this technology on the idea that they may be able to one day incorporate service charges for law enforcement agencies' use of the databases."
Scarfo downplayed the legal hurdles surrounding facial recognition technology. "The issues we have heard are more a matter of agencies working through the budget process. I don't think the application is being held back out of any concern that use will be restricted by legislation that is in place. I'm pretty sure that is going to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction."
West Virginia Uses Facial Recognition to Combat Underage Drinking
Polaroid now does business with 37 state DMVs, many of which use facial recognition technology on a limited scale. For instance, West Virginia in less than a year caught 40 people attempting to get a driver's license that rightfully belonged to someone else, according to Lacy Morgan Jr., director of information services for the state's DMV.
West Virginia's solution does not incorporate technology that was provided under a new alliance to strengthen Polaroid's facial biometrics solutions (see companion story above). Instead of searching across databases of images, West Virginia's DMVs use facial recognition technology to confirm a person's identity.
"This is a relatively straight-forward, simple application, where you know who you are looking for," said Phil Scarfo, general manager for Polaroid ID Systems. "It is more complicated when you are looking for a match to a face across many, many images of many faces."
The application addresses a problem facing states nationwide as they struggle to enforce the minimum drinking age mandated by the federal government. The system helps prevent young people from obtaining fake IDs-often DMV-issued licenses featuring the underage person's face but another person's name and birth date.
To make it almost impossible for anyone but the original license holder to be issued duplicates, the state built a system using Polaroid's facial recognition technology. The system works even if a person has changed weight, hair color or has grown or shaved facial hair. "It is a first in U.S. driver's licenses," said John Munday, president of Polaroid ID Systems.
Polaroid's facial recognition system analyzes images captured with digital cameras and studies the geometry of the person's facial structure, Munday said. "After your late teen years, the dimensions of your face don't change much," he said. "The system looks at the skull geometry. It looks at the distance between the eyes and between the jaw and the eyes."
However, the system is less dependent on that geometry now than in the past because improved algorithms and more computing horsepower let the system look more closely at details, Munday said. This adds to the system's accuracy, and by looking at details around the eyes, the system's accuracy remains unaffected by facial hair on the person in the image. The same improvements in processing power and algorithms have made the system practical for states to run on affordable desktop PCs rather than costly reduced instruction-set computing workstations that might have been needed previously.
West Virginia opted for a facial recognition system because of public backlash in Georgia against a fingerprint identification system that was tried there briefly, Munday said. Facial recognition uses similar biometrics measurements but lacks the stigma attached to fingerprinting due to years of use by law enforcement. "In the [United States], people associate being fingerprinted with being arrested," he said. This is in spite of the fact that many parents have their children photographed and fingerprinted for their own security.
West Virginia decided that, in view of such problems, mandatory fingerprinting was not worth the trouble. "Fingerprint imaging brought a lot of attention from the attorney general's office that it might be an invasion of privacy," Morgan said. Instead, West Virginia has an optional fingerprint identification system that serves to back up the facial recognition system, and most residents choose to provide their fingerprints, he said.
Dan Carney, a Herndon, Va.-based free-lance writer
High-Tech Weapon in the War on Drugs: Mobile VPNs are Key to Law Enforcement
Alliance in Southern States
Counternarcotics units in four Southern states soon will begin piloting a new technology that allows law enforcement officials to work securely on mobile computers-palmtops and laptops-to create virtual private networks (VPNs) over the Internet.
As many as 3,000 law enforcement officials in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi will use a new software application product called Viatores to build a secure VPN for sharing information while investigating drug-related crimes. A small start-up company in Northern Virginia, Ecutel LLC, pioneered the application.
Ecutel has built into Viatores a feature that allows mobile users to stay mobile without having to reconfigure their systems. The company likens the capability to a cellular phone caller's ability to use a cell phone without having to reconfigure the device each time his signal is handed off to a different communications tower.
Ecutel's Viatores promises to extend that concept to mobile computers. If true, the product will lessen the aggravation experienced every time officers want to move around a jurisdiction and still maintain a VPN. "Everything became chaotic when [VPN users who needed mobility] tried to communicate," said John Harrison, chief executive officer at Ecutel. "It was taking a lot of time because they had to reconfigure their networks each time." In some cases, it might take as long as 40 minutes to reconfigure a virtual network, he said.
The frustration level alone may drive state and local law enforcement interest in Viatores, predicted Preston Cherouny, director of business development at Capital Reps LLC, Reston, Va., a consulting firm Ecutel enlisted to search for resellers and potential customers in the state and local market. Ecutel hopes to take the Southern states project and duplicate it for other state and local law enforcement agencies. "Right now we're talking to the New York State Police," Cherouny added.
"Once communities see the impact of having rapid, clear communication at a reduced cost, many regions will look forward to having this capability simply for law enforcement officer safety," said Dennis Wilke, program manager for the initiative. Connectivity in the four Southern states will start in Mississippi in a phased approach, with the first installation in the state's Department of Public Safety and Highway Patrol. Other Mississippi state agencies will be added, and eventually usage will extend to the three other states.
L. Scott Tillett, reporter for Federal Computer Week
More Than Just a Browser: Netscape's Communicator 4.5 Is First Leg
of New Selling Strategy
With the release of its enhanced World Wide Web browsing suite, Communicator 4.5, Netscape Communications Corp. is aggressively pursuing business from state and local government (SLG) users, company officials said. A key piece of the strategy is promoting the use of new directory service technology as a way for state and local governments to hatch enterprise applications, including electronic commerce.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company just closed the books on its first fiscal year of concentrated state and local sales, bearing down on a vertical market it believes could be worth $46 billion. Crucial to Netscape's state and local strategy is Lightweight Directory Access Protocol technology. LDAP is an alternative to the X.500 messaging protocol and a quicker, more streamlined way for agencies to build standard directory services.
"LDAP is the first of a three-tiered approach we are taking to the state and local market," said Paul Smith, Netscape's director of state and local markets. "First, we want to help agencies establish their infrastructure with directory management and security solutions. Then we'll pitch to governments turnkey applications through our middleware and specific-application products such as e-commerce. Finally, we expect a lot of interest from state and local governments in customized Netcenters, which is our version of a portal page that lets agencies customize links to the Internet."
Netscape's state and local business unit remains nestled within the company's Government Group, which includes the Defense Department and other federal accounts. But the company has put in place a sales force that is dedicated to SLG business. Scattered throughout the country in several field locations, Netscape's state and local sales force is now more than 20 strong. The company also has a corps of dedicated engineers working on customized applications for the market.
Smith said Netscape recorded a 300 percent growth in state and local sales last year, and it is now targeting its campaign at state chief information officers and local government IT decision-makers. Netscape currently holds term contracts with 16 states, including the nation's top 10 states in terms of technology buying.
"Our goal is to double that [contract number] next year, but establishing those contracts is a laborious process, so we are getting really aggressive on agency [requests for proposals]." Human services agencies, state departments of transportation and public safety units have provided steady hits for Netscape, he said.
Buying Strategies: L.A. Attempts Outsourcing Fusion
By Brian Robinson Sometime in February, Los Angeles County is expected to award a contract that could set the standard for how metropolitan-area government information technology programs are structured. Not only will the deal set up one of the largest telecom services outsourcing projects ever attempted, it will also define the leading edge of collaborative procurement pacts between independent regional authorities.
Under the deal, the county, the city of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will all be able to buy a range of telecom services, from local and long-distance phone service to Internet access, analog and digital private lines to frame-relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) services. Other public entities that were not a part of the request for proposals issued earlier this year will also be able to buy from the contract.
The original purpose of the RFP was to attract a more competitive process and, as a result, get lower rates and better services than each of the separate regional authorities had been able to attract when putting out their own bids.
"Sometimes vendors don't bid if they think there isn't enough on the table to make it worth their while," said Elizabeth Bennett, acting chief information officer of the MTA, which will look to the contract for various carrier services-certainly voice and perhaps data also. "Having more dollars at stake is particularly important to the very large vendors because that makes it worth their while to bid. It also draws many more vendors into bidding."
Among them, the three jurisdictions account for about $100 million a year in IT services. The county alone makes up half of that, and it is Pacific Bell's biggest customer in California. It is hoped the contract will cut as much as 20 percent off service bills.
The contract should allow for significant efficiencies of scale as the MTA, city and county share some of the physical communications infrastructure and paths that the communications cable occupies. And with the cooperation that the process has fostered, construction and road closings can be coordinated instead of having to do it three separate times. "The cost of wire is minuscule compared to the cost of the labor involved in putting it into the ground," Bennett said.
A Fractured Department
For Jon Fullinwider, the CIO of Los Angeles County, the major advantage of the RFP is in the opportunity it represents to build an enterprise network for the whole county. When he took his position at the beginning of 1997, he found the county's IT infrastructure fractured into separate departmental fiefdoms, with all the high costs and system incompatibilities that it produced. Having done something similar in his previous job as San Diego County's IT czar, the idea of a network for L.A. county seemed natural.
"When I came in as CIO, the county already had an RFP to sustain phone services only," he said. "I said we could do that, and given the state of the IT industry at the time, I also knew we could get lower prices even with this [county-only] approach. But it represented the least effort."
Given his belief that networking is an enterprise and not a departmental business, Fullinwider told county officials that a ubiquitous telecom network was needed. But because he didn't consider networking to be one of the county's core competencies, he also wanted someone else to manage it, so a separate portion of the joint RFP, which the county took the lead on, asked bidders for proposals on network services to be provided in conjunction with the other services detailed in the RFP. "I wanted a broadband, 45 [megabits/sec] ATM network," Fullinwider said, "and I didn't want to pay for it."
In contrast, the city of Los Angeles doesn't have the expansive plans of the county, and it considers the RFP mainly as a way to get better and less expensive phone services and support. The city also has different public service needs than the county and aims to make better use of some of the departmental networks that exist rather than replace them.
But the RFP does serve another goal. "The longer-range plan is that, in this region, we should collaborate on many fronts if we find common areas of interest," said John Hwang, general manager of the city's Information Technology Department. "That ranges anywhere from IT hardware and software to higher levels of public/public and public/private partnerships. If it leads to a better deal for the public, then that's the way it should go."
The aim is to attract more businesses to Los Angeles, Hwang said, but it makes no sense to limit that investment to the city boundaries, so it's only natural to see how the city might work with other jurisdictions-and the county in particular-to promote investment that benefits everyone. At the same time, there are legal and business barriers to be overcome, so before much of this can happen, Hwang said, he looks on the joint RFP "as something of a trial."
Could the RFP be used as a blueprint for similar collaborations elsewhere in the country? There were some advantages that were unique to Los Angeles. The fact that both Fullinwider and Hwang, who came to the city in April 1996 after 28 years in the federal government, were new in their jobs at the same time meant they had no institutional history to hold them back. That has proved important in overcoming the inevitable resistance the RFP faced.
Beyond that, however, there's an agreement that now is the time for these kinds of collaborations. "The times are changing," Hwang said, "and we in the larger cities should be more willing to take these kinds of initiatives because we can no longer rely on the feds and others to push the issues. We are going to have to do something, and in that sense IT as a discipline is new enough that people feel they are obligated to finding new ways to do things."
Fullinwider was even more succinct. In the current climate of tight funds and budget cutbacks, he said, people are being foolish with their money if they don't try to find every way to become more efficient about things. Collaborations such as the joint RFP are one obvious answer.
"If this idea is not catching on with other counties around the country," he said, "it needs to."
-- Brian Robinson is a free-lance writer based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Review: Communicator 4.5 Promises Broad Connectivity, Packs Road Warrior
Netscape Communication's Corp.'s recently updated World Wide Web browsing suite holds many new features that have a lot of government appeal. The FCW Test Center's recent look at Communicator 4.5, which was released Oct. 19, revealed a slight edge that the update may have over competing products such as Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer.
Communicator 4.5 features improved message management and enhanced support for roaming users, among other upgrades. Couple those with broad operating system support and advanced cryptography, and you have an attractive product for officials who are both government system administrators and frequent travelers.
Communicator 4.5 is a Web browsing suite that consists of the Messenger e-mail client, Navigator Web browser, a group calendar application and a Web page composer. It is available for free download from Netscape's Web site (www.netscape.com) or via site licensing agreements, which are in place in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. These licensing agreements often provide for centralized Web sites that may be quicker and easier for downloading the software than the site offered by Netscape.)
System administrators will be most interested in Communicator 4.5's enhanced support for two key messaging protocols: Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) 4 and the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP).
Previous versions of Communicator offered basic support for IMAP, a protocol that allows messages to be retained on the message server instead of automatically downloaded to the local machine upon connection. This protocol lets users manage their message stores from multiple computers, which isn't possible with simpler messaging protocols such as Post Office Protocol 3 or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol.
The enhanced capabilities of IMAP that are supported in Communicator 4.5 offer users added flexibility in managing the message store. Among the most useful new features are the storage of sent messages on the server, selective download of attachments and faster header downloads.
Netscape Messenger's IMAP4 support means that you can designate certain message folders as being shared, so another user can access them. You also can selectively synchronize message folders between your client machine and the server. And now the tracking of message status is performed on the server instead of the client. That means when you mark a message as read or forwarded on one client machine and then access your mailbox using another machine, the tag will show up. So if you're traveling and accessing your message store from a notebook instead of your desktop, you'll now have all the information you need about your messages.
Communicator 4.5 also delivers enhanced support for LDAP, the emerging standard data format for address book and directory information. This means you can access multiple LDAP directories and use stronger search tools to find users in those directories. Messenger, for example, offers a new pop-up dialog box for selecting names, in case than one matches your entry. And the program's search tools include phonetic searches and partial string searches. What's more, users can restrict searches to specified LDAP data fields, such as the addressee's organization or address.
The Navigator Web browser offers some nifty features that will be new to users who didn't upgrade to Version 4.06. Specifically, the browser now includes a What's Related button on the toolbar that, when clicked, will display a list of Web sites related to the page you have open.
Another feature of Navigator's new SmartBrowsing tools is the use of Internet keywords in the Go To line. Instead of typing the exact Uniform Resource Locator, all you need do is type in a descriptive keyword, and chances are you'll be transported to the appropriate Web site. For example, you can type in Southwest Airlines and the browser will figure out the URL and call up the appropriate home page.
Another end-user-oriented enhancement is improved integration with Netscape's NetCenter portal, which allows users to create custom pages with special news and information updated regularly. Ultimately, Netscape envisions large organizations such as government agencies using the so-called Custom NetCenter feature to provide information from their own intranets.
Among the dozens of other enhancements are faster Java execution and a SmartUpdate utility for automatic updates of the suite. However, I was disappointed that this new version of Communicator doesn't include a feature such as the nifty navigation panels in Internet Explorer that let you move from one Web site to another without having to back up.
But the big attraction to most departmental users-and the product's primary edge over Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer-is Communicator's enhanced support for IMAP4 and LDAP.