The National Crime Squad is to develop a facial-recognition system for use in crime fighting.

The NCS is working on a national database, based on Imagis ID-2000 facial-recognition technology, to use as a tool for keeping track of convicted paedophiles and other criminals.

UK-based Serco, a management and consulting company that has been providing IT support to the government and the NCS, for a number of years is working with Canadian firm Imagis, a developer of image-identification software with a focus on biometric facial recognition, to develop the system.

The software should aid law-enforcement agencies in identifying victims and perpetrators as well as background imagery for criminal investigation and case preparation, Imagis said at the Biometrics 2001 Conference in London on Thursday.

Serious uses already here

Already being used by the NCS, the facial-recognition technology is playing a part in the ongoing investigation into an online paedophile group which on Wednesday led to the arrest of 130 people worldwide, 10 in the UK.

Downloaded images confiscated by the police will be scanned by the software so the police can see if they can identify anyone who appears in them.

The software is also being looked into as a tool for the fight against international terrorism, an NCS spokesman said.

Face recognition software is in play in the UK in more places than you might imagine. Some major ports of entry (places such as Gatwick and Heathrow airports and seaports such as Dover) are already using these systems. These, however, scan the real world and compare images to a database.

Looking out at the world

Back in 1999 Cambridge-based Neurodynamics developed and sold to the government a system that didn't require dedicated optics and was far quicker than previous systems in capture and processing.

The system uses a combination of projected infrared light and a standard CCTV camera linked to a PC running some special software.

Three years ago the system was generating around five to six per cent false results, which the firm said was unacceptable for major corporate use. But this didn't rule it out for state systems.

Because the system uses a 3D representation it can recognise faces more adeptly and still be flexible in its application. This means those agencies using it could place the CCTV almost anywhere in a room and still get recognition.

Also, because the system can capture face data 'on the fly' and uses invisible infrared light, those recognised need never know the checking is taking place.

The personal from the impersonal

There's a less scary side to face recognition technology as well — places where a personal touch is needed can use it. Restaurants can use them to welcome and set up tables for regulars, for example.

But it's in the field of security and policing that these systems are more likely to appear. This summer's Superbowl in the US became infamous in certain IT circles for using face recognition without telling attendees. Expect more of the same the world over.