Packet Rat: The Rat puts a happy face on facial recognition

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

It was picture day for the cyberrodent's youth soccer team. Unlike coaches who buy into the professional sports photography scheme, he was going the DIY route.

'Plus, this way I can Photoshop the best pictures together, so you can get the one where your kid isn't picking his or her nose,' he explained to the players' parents. They agreed that ink-jet prints they liked were certainly better than photographic prints they didn't.

Naturally, of course, the Rat had an ulterior motive. His pals at the Homeland Security Department wanted him to try out a mobile facial recognition system.

'I'm almost certain some of these kids are on some sort of watch list, considering the looks they give me when I make them run laps,' the whiskered one muttered to his wife.

He plugged his digital camera into a notebook PC mounted on the dashboard of the family assault vehicle. The Rat's PC software, Viisage Mobile Identification Solution from Viisage Technology Inc. of Billerica, Mass., sends queries over a wireless connection to the company's facial recognition database.

The server kicks back possible matches, leaving it up to the user to pick the best match. Just how many matches it returns'and how closely they resemble the query image'can be configured into the business logic.

For recreational purposes, the Rat set the software to Stun. 'See, I told you this kid looked like Charles Manson,' he informed his assistant coach as results came streaming back.

The software is already providing made-for-reality-TV moments down in Pinellas County, Fla., where it rides along with sheriff's deputies. Last month, a woman who lied to deputies about her age got fingered by MIS as being wanted on two felony warrants.

Viisage is happy about that, considering that the company has suffered some rough moments lately in the government market. In September, the company lost out to Identix Inc. of Minnetonka, Minn., on its bid for a $20 million State Department contract. In July, Georgia's Motor Vehicle Safety Department took away a Viisage contract to build a driver's license identification system'officials hadn't followed proper bid procedures.

But Viisage did get onto the Defense Department's smart ID card project. Now it's just a matter of time before thousands of feds will be mugging for digital head shots that find their way into a Viisage database.

As game time approached, the Rat locked away his borrowed playthings and grabbed his clipboard. 'Well, at least now I know which kids to start,' he told his assistant.

'Who?'

'The ones who came back with burglary warrants. I want them where I can keep an eye on them'out on the field.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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