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Catching Criminals, the Digital Way

In this digital day and age, we take more than 380billion photos a year – that’s over a billion photos every day. 25million of these photos are posted to Facebook alone, every two hours. This got me thinking.

How many photos do we unknowingly appear in during our lifetime? How many photos do wanted criminals unknowingly appear in during their lifetimes? And, finally, how many wanted criminals will I unknowingly take a photo of in my lifetime? A strange train of thought, I know, but an interesting one nonetheless.

With this thought in mind and the knowledge that face recognition technology is now firmly established and widely used, I found it strange that few developers had taken the opportunity to use this tech as a tool for tracking criminals. We have all these photos and videos, a vast majority of which are compatible with face recognition software, so therefore we must have a large wanted criminal database – why not compile the two?

It seems only one company has had similar ideas. Hyperlayer, a small American company consisting of only three members, markets its product as one that ‘starts with the most basic human need: safety’. The application ‘combines facial recognition, cloud computing and next-generation mobile devices to reveal to users the criminal history of people they pass on the street’.

Hyperlayer seemed to have grasped the idea, however I have a few problems. The app does cover the basic ideas I’ve been thinking of. It can show you the criminality of a citizen and use geo-caching to notify the authorities of the sighting and can additionally use face recognition to log sightings of missing persons. They even have a Google Glass edition. Seems great, right? Well, here are my concerns. Firstly, the app shows users ‘the criminal history of people’. I for one think this is unfair. Criminal history is in the past - criminal history is convicted and spent, so in my opinion should not be publically available. People can change. I feel this technology should only be used to search for those who are wanted, whether that would mean a criminal or a missing person.

Secondly, this app is real-time. This has one simple problem – would citizens really feel comfortable if the user wanders the streets with a smartphone pointed towards the faces of passers-by? The Google Glass edition would be a great way around this problem – this form of new technology might be a bit more subtle and accepted than a phone to the face.

I also think the ability to automatically use face recognition to scan photos and videos for wanted criminals or missing persons would be a great addition to the app. It might be slightly slower than real-time, but if a match is found the data is still better than nothing. Other than the obvious advantages of the subtlety of this addition, the ‘not quite real-time’ technology would also stop the odd vigilante from doing the authorities’ jobs for them, badly.

Android and Apple App Store seem to think the same. From what can be seen, Hyperlayer isn’t available or distributed on any major application stores. The Google Glass edition is, for now, a failure too - Hyperlayer breaches Google’s privacy policy and so won’t be seen on Glass too soon.

So, Hyperlayer – a step in the right direction, yes, a good attempt, yes, but back to the drawing board, definitely. With a few small changes I really think this technology could take off – and remember, you heard it here first.

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