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Boston police chief: facial recognition tech didn’t help find bombing suspects

April 22, 2013
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Source: Ars Technica

While the whole country is relieved that this past week’s Boston Marathon bombing ordeal and subsequent lockdown of the city is finally over, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis told the Washington Post that the department’s facial recognition system “did not identify” the two bombing suspects.

“The technology came up empty even though both Tsarnaevs’ images exist in official databases: Dzhokhar had a Massachusetts driver’s license; the brothers had legally immigrated; and Tamerlan had been the subject of some FBI investigation,” the Post reported on Saturday.

Facial recognition systems can have limited utility when a grainy, low-resolution image captured at a distance from a cellphone camera or surveillance video is compared with a known, high-quality image. Meanwhile, the FBI is expected to release a large-scale facial recognition apparatus “next year for members of the Western Identification Network, a consortium of police agencies in California and eight other Western states,” according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Still, video surveillance did prove extremely useful in pinpointing the suspects.

“The work was painstaking and mind-numbing: One agent watched the same segment of video 400 times,” the Post added. “The goal was to construct a timeline of images, following possible suspects as they moved along the sidewalks, building a narrative out of a random jumble of pictures from thousands of different phones and cameras. It took a couple of days, but analysts began to focus on two men in baseball caps who had brought heavy black bags into the crowd near the marathon’s finish line but left without those bags.”

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