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Enemy at the gait: New cameras identify you by your walk

Published time: September 21, 2012 15:23
Edited time: September 21, 2012 19:23
AFP Photo/Leon Neal

AFP Photo/Leon Neal

A new biometric “gait recognition” system has been developed by Britain’s National Physical Laboratory, meaning that individuals can now be recognized and located by their “signature” walk.

­Serious privacy concerns have been aired about the system and its potential surveillance applications.

New Scientist reports that NPL, which collaborated with the Center for Advanced Software Technology (CAST), the BBC and BAE Systems, developed a new system through which a person’s walk could be identified. The tracking system combines a computer model of the NPL building with feeds from each on-site CCTV camera.

In each video frame, the system separates an individual’s silhouette from its background. The rise and fall of head height is recorded, and the pattern it forms can be represented by a set of numbers. This is linked to the person’s identity. A computer can then produce a list of all the other places that the person has visited, and the occasions they have been there.

Iris scans and facial recognition systems are seen as insufficient when it comes to identifying individuals from a longer distance. These methods require a “cooperative subject” and high-quality imaging. Standard CCTV is too low-resolution to pick out distinctive features, but the gait-identifying development could give it much more advanced surveillance capabilities.

“This technology poses a real threat to privacy and in the coming years it will be used for marketing purposes as well as supposed public safety. Personal data goes far beyond writing down your name and address now and the law urgently needs revising to reflect this,” Nick Pickles, director of the UK’s Big Brother Watch told RT.

Simultaneous research has been carried out by Professor Martin Hofmann and colleagues at the Technical University of Munich. They have developed an even more intrusive version that takes information from a person's image, such as shadows on their clothing, creating a considerably more detailed “signature”.

Additionally, Professor Daigo Muramatsu and colleagues at Osaka University have been conducting research on how people can be identified from different camera angles. He believes the research could also have “commercial applications,” according to New Scientist.

Hoffman suggested that it could be used to identify bank robbers who had their faces covered.

However, Nick Pickles stated, “Rather than finding new ways to identify innocent people, we should be asking why mass surveillance has failed to make people any safer.”

Earlier this month RT reported the FBI’s installation of the $1-billion Next Generation Identification system, which is able to recognize faces, across America. This is an “upgrade” to the current Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, and already has incredible surveillance capabilities over the innocent as well as guilty.

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