Are­nas face up to eye in the sky

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - News - DANIELLE GUSMAROLI

DRONES equipped with fa­cial recog­ni­tion soft­ware would scan crowds at sports sta­di­ums and ma­jor events in a po­lice plan to boost se­cu­rity.

The “eye in the sky” would ex­tend an 18-month NSW Po­lice trial of 88 drones — some small enough to fit into the palm of a hand and fly into build­ings — launched in June.

The hi-tech ma­chines will be hooked up to soft­ware that records fa­cial fea­tures, sim­i­lar to air­port se­cu­rity scan­ners, from next year. Po­lice have been trained to use drones in sit­u­a­tions rang­ing from sieges to hunt­ing sus­pects on the run, de­tect­ing drugs and search­ing for miss­ing chil­dren.

“They give us a bird’s-eye view of any emer­gency — they can go where hu­mans can­not,” the unit’s com­man­der De­tec­tive Sergeant Matthew Harmer said. “It’s just a ques­tion of time be­fore fa­cial recog­ni­tion is in­te­grated into the drones and used for pub­lic or­der and high-risk sit­u­a­tions.”

A se­nior po­lice source told The Sat­ur­day Tele­graph: “We al­ready film peo­ple us­ing drones — fa­cial recog­ni­tion is about in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing, match­ing faces in crowds … against those of known per­sons on po­lice data­bases.”

The drones have a range of about 2km and are equipped with hi-res cam­eras, video link, in­fra-red sen­sors and pow­er­ful com­put­ers. Civil avi­a­tion rules limit them to an alti­tude of 400 feet. The fa­cial recog­ni­tion soft­ware is equiv­a­lent to Syd­ney Air­port’s SmartGate au­to­matic pass­port check­points.

Un­der cur­rent laws, peo­ple can be filmed and pho­tographed in pub­lic places with­out their con­sent.

But Aus­tralian Pri­vacy Foun­da­tion chair­man David Vaile warned po­lice us­ing aerial tech­nol­ogy in emer­gen­cies could spill over into “scope creep” whereby drones are used for daily polic­ing.

“The prob­lem with drones is you don’t know who is pi­lot­ing it,” he said.

“If you get one hov­er­ing out­side your bed­room win­dow, is it the po­lice, the lo­cal coun­cil, a per­vert, bur­glar or a Google map­ping ser­vice?”

Mr Vaile also warned that fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy was lim­ited by “so many vari­ables” in­clud­ing light­ing, an­gle, skin tone and dis­tance.

“There will need to be a lot of po­lice power to do the hu­man check­ing on the spot to pre­vent in­no­cent peo­ple from be­ing ar­rested,” he said.

Sgt Harmer said drones could prove use­ful in a range of sit­u­a­tions, from pro­vid­ing vi­sion in­side a sit­u­a­tion such as a hostage siege to us­ing ther­mal 3D imag­ing for searches.

“The beauty of drones is you can get footage straight to tac­ti­cal com­mand, you can see ob­sta­cles, peo­ple hid­ing be­hind build­ings, you can see run­ners go­ing out the back door,” he said.

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